Did you know that United States landfills are closing at a rate of one per day?

April 08, 2013

Our largest cities are scrambling for alternatives.

While we wish the landfill closure rate were an indicator that we are producing less trash as a country, it is actually (and unfortunately) an indicator that we are running out of space for where to put it. It's a recipe for a train wreck, and the situation must urgently be addressed. Here's a look at three major US landfills that are closing this year and how that will affect the surrounding communities and environment.

Puente Hills Landfill, California

The Puente Hills landfill has serviced Los Angeles County for over 70 years, and now it has run out of space. It is one of the largest landfill sites in the country, and its closing is considered by many to be the beginning of an environmental crisis. People just don't know where they will be taking their trash in the future.

Until a more permanent solution is found, local trash will be transported to Mesquite Regional Landfill in Imperial County, CA. That will turn it into the country's largest landfill, receiving trash from Los Angeles, Riverside, San Diego, and Orange County (a combined population of more than 18 million). Mesquite Regional plans to get over 20,000 tons of waste per day! The effects on the surrounding air quality will be devastating.

Mesquite Regional also happens to be more than 200 miles from Los Angeles, which will result in a tremendous increase in trash disposal costs for residents and businesses. The San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments even petitioned for the closing of the Puente Hills landfill to be postponed until 2018 in the hopes of keeping down the trash rates paid by homeowners.

Moretown Landfill, Vermont

The odor and pollution caused by the Moretown Landfill had become devastating. Groundwater in many locations surrounding the landfill was found to contain excessive amounts of arsenic, manganese, and iron. And despite every effort to keep the smell under control, the state continued to receive hundreds of complaints from local residents. As a result, the state of Vermont has revoked the landfill's permit and ordered its immediate closure.

While local residents are overjoyed at the prospect of once more having fresh air and water, it creates a new kind of mess for the local waste management industry. The decision leaves only one commercial landfill left in the entire state of Vermont. Trash haulers will be forced to transport garbage to dumping sites in New York, New Hampshire, or Massachusetts. In an attempt to alleviate the additional transportation costs this will impose, Vermont has issued permits for three new state landfills, which have yet to open.

Rogers Road Landfill, North Carolina

While it is not one the largest in the country, the story of this Orange County, NC landfill provides a perfect example of how trash will eventually encroach on more populated, residential communities. The landfill services the three major towns of Chapel Hill, Hillsborough, and Carrboro and there is no more space left there. The site's smell and vermin have forced the county to take fast action in closing it, which didn't leave any time for them to plan for what these towns will do with their future waste.

As the countdown to the landfill's closing continues, the town councils are scrambling to find a solution, even hiring outside experts to help. The two options they are entertaining currently are either opening a new landfill 1.5 miles from the old site or to take their trash to a transfer station in the nearby city of Durham. By opening a new landfill, the problems caused by the old landfill will, as one local resident put it, simply be "kicked around the same block". And the city of Durham happens to be one of North Carolina's most populated by both people and trash. Neither choice looks bright.

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