Talking trash: Preserving space at the landfill

A Better You

Space is a commodity at the landfill. And it’s filling up fast.

Springfield, Mo. — When you want to throw something away, you put it into the trash can and then in a curbside bin, and a truck takes it away. But, as Laurie Davis will tell you, there’s no magical place called away. It ends up at the landfill.

“The landfill is not just a hole in the ground, and you dump the trash. It is engineered and designed to protect our water, land and air,” said Davis, the education outreach coordinator for the City of Springfield’s Environmental Services.

Every day 1,000 to 1,200 tons of trash are dumped at the Noble Hill Sanitary Landfill.

The Noble Hill landfill opened in 1975. Davis says the location was selected not just because it’s away from the city, but also because of its geology: what’s underground is what matters most.

The impermeable rock foundation doesn’t allow leakage into the water underground.

Of the 1,200 acres of land, the city is only allowed to use 213 acres.

Erik Roberts, the superintendent of Solid Waste for the city, says that’s because of regulations by the Department of Natural Resources and the EPA.

“They’ve done years of science and research into those side slopes – how steep you can make the hill of trash,” he said.

And for that reason, space is the number one commodity at the landfill.

According to a city waste audit, Davis says that about 70 percent of the materials at the landfill could have potentially been recycled or repurposed.

“Our number one item here is paper,” she said. “Paper is easily recyclable. Plastics. We have food waste. We have wood waste. Lots and lots of materials.”

And it’s against federal law to remove these items.

“What comes to the landfill – stays at the landfill,” Davis said.

There are 17 landfills in Missouri, and the Springfield location will be open and operational for another 50 to 75 years.

“At the point that the landfill is completely filled to the capacity, the landfill will be the highest point of elevation in Greene county,” Davis said.

And when that happens, the city will have to find an alternative option which Roberts says isn’t an easy task.

“Additional landfill space isn’t just something you can go do,” he said. “It’s a very long process. It takes seven to ten years. Sometimes, it can take longer if you can’t find a suitable geological setting to put the landfill. You have to look at the land, drill holes in the land, and determine what soil and rocks are there. Also, there are limits on how close you can be to other communities, airports, schools and houses.”

Even after the landfill closes, Roberts says environmental regulations require the city to take care of the land for another 30 to 50 years.

The saying goes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. And in this case, every man’s trash, or things that are not trash, ruins everyone’s treasure – the landfill, a valuable community resource.

“Our preference and part of the reason we do what we do now are to improve diversion to make the resource that we have here and the space that we have here last as long as possible,” Roberts said.

And Davis adds everyone has some control over that diversion.

“When we think about what we’re putting into our trash can, could I repurpose or recycle this first? That should be the first choice. The landfill should be the last choice.”

The City of Springfield has recycling centers for plastic, glass and yard waste, ways to repurpose and donate other items like mattresses, electronics and tires, and composting classes to minimize food waste.

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