Springfield, MO

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Waste Line: Landfill use is rising with population, development

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The thing about a growing population is that each new resident brings a person’s worth of waste – about 1,788 pounds per year for the average American, according to 2018 figures from the Environmental Protection Agency.

In the 2020 census, the Springfield metropolitan area population came in at 347,000, a 26% increase over the 2010 total.

But the amount of waste going to the local landfill is increasing at a much faster rate.

“It probably has come close to doubling in the last five years,” said Springfield Director of Environmental Services Errin Kemper, in a report to Springfield City Council last month.

Erick Roberts, the assistant director, refined that figure in an interview with Springfield Business Journal.

“Over the last 10 years, we’ve had average daily tonnages that increased from 600 to over 1,000 tons per day, ending our fiscal year 2021,” Roberts said, attributing much of that 67% increase to construction projects and population growth.

At its Nov. 28 meeting, City Council took up an annual piece of business with the discussion of a resolution to provide state-required financial assurances to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources for closure and maintenance activities at the city’s Noble Hill Sanitary Landfill – actions that may be decades away.

Council will vote on the measure Dec. 12.

Kemper told council last year’s rate was $16.5 million, but this year, adjusting for inflation and increased costs for the disposal of liquids that emanate from the landfill, the assurance rate is $17.3 million. That’s money the city promises to provide right now if for some reason it were to walk away from the landfill – a tremendously unlikely scenario, as the landfill is the city’s waste depository for the next several decades.

When asked by a council member about the lifespan of the landfill, Kemper estimated it could receive solid waste for another 50-75 years. He acknowledged, however, that the figure was difficult to pin down. According to Roberts, an expansion was approved in early 2019, and growth trends were taken into account.

“As tonnage increases, it certainly decreases that projected lifespan,” Roberts said.

Kemper said the landfill accepts waste from many areas, with what he called the “wasteshed” extending from north of Bolivar southward to parts of Arkansas. The same rate is charged per ton to everyone, at $30.94 per ton.

Councilperson Craig Hosmer said landfill capacity is not just an environmental issue, but an economic one. When the landfill closes, it will be hard to establish another one near the city.

“I hope we’re good stewards of the facility that we have, and we’ll be a little more aggressive, and more progressive, on people recycling and taking waste out of the waste stream,” he said.

Kemper said the number of landfills in the state is decreasing, and it is becoming difficult to site new landfills due to a shortage of available land and the region’s geology. Additionally, as landfills start to close, the “wasteshed” for each individual landfill expands so that they can absorb the waste that used to go elsewhere, and that can also reduce the life of a facility.

Recycling in Springfield
Residential recycling is voluntary in Springfield, and trash service is handled by independent haulers rather than the city managing a centralized service.

Roberts said 1991 was a pivotal year in the city. That’s when voters approved an integrated solid waste management system. Drop-off sites for recycling came into being and have grown from there. Moreover, to be licensed to operate in the city, private haulers are required to offer curbside recycling, though participation is voluntary.

In Missouri, St. Louis, Kansas City and Columbia all offer trash service and curbside recycling as a city utility that carries a charge, and that diverts some material from landfills and extends the lives of the facilities.

Hosmer noted haulers operating in Springfield typically charge an additional rate for recycling.

“We should make every trash company that operates in the city of Springfield offer recycling as a built-in service that they provide,” he said. “Otherwise, you’re going to encourage people from a financial perspective not to recycle, and when you do that, it’s going to fill the landfill up faster. To me, it doesn’t make any long-term sense.”

Kemper said the city relies on education efforts to teach the public about opportunities for recycling.

Dead end for materials
Paul Spitz, general manager of Automated Waste Services in Nixa, sees the waste stream firsthand, and he has for a long time. Before heading up Automated Waste, he worked for both GFL Environmental Inc. and Republic Services, the city’s two largest independent haulers – both of which have their own solid waste transfer stations and landfills.

Spitz said he has noticed waste increase, a trend he credited to population growth and construction.

Spitz said not very many customers choose to recycle – and he’s not sure he blames them. A city study conducted in 2017 found residents were paying $10-$16 per month for trash collection alone with additional charges for recycling, whereas other cities have bundled trash, recycling and yard waste ranging $10-$20 per month.

Spitz noted when China stopped accepting and processing U.S. recycling, the market for those materials dried up, and now, much of the waste that is intended for recycling is diverted to the landfill.

There remains a market for cardboard and aluminum, he said, but demand for other recyclables have tanked.

According to Spitz, if a customer opened a can of lima beans and attached a tracking device before throwing it into the recycling bin, it would likely emerge from the recycling center within three days and start moving toward Noble Hill.

Roberts told SBJ some recyclables get diverted to the landfill due to contamination, and he has seen stories of recyclables becoming overwhelming and being landfilled in other communities.

“To the best of our knowledge, the materials collected in Springfield that are capable of being recycled are recycled, and we have records and contracts to help us to ensure this continues,” he said.

He did not have records to quantify contamination rates of material received in Springfield.

China once processed nearly half of the world’s recyclables, according to the Yale School of the Environment. As a result of China banning imports of recyclables in 2018, the Yale report noted, some U.S. communities have halted their recycling programs.

The U.S. recycles only 35% of its municipal solid waste, the EPA reports. Germany, the world’s most efficient recycling nation, recycles 68%, the global research firm Verisk reports.

Creative options
Mike Turner is general manager of Smash My Trash, a franchise established two years ago locally to do exactly what the name suggests.

The company uses a giant rolling pin-like device to compact trash, typically construction and demolition material, thus saving space in the landfill and saving per-trip expenses for business customers.

Turner said since he came on a year ago, business has tripled.

“The more we smash, the less of the trash trucks that are on the road,” he said, declining to disclose volumes.

He added that his customers reduce their carbon footprint to meet ecological targets, and they save money in the process. Smash Your Trash typically charges $100 or less per load, depending on compaction, which increases the amount of waste a roll-off container can hold, perhaps threefold, he said.

Roberts brought up a few emerging technologies that may be on the horizon to help the city post-capping – processes like mining landfills for reusable materials, thus freeing up space, or establishing a bioreactor landfill, where bacteria breaks down waste. Another possibility is a landfill gas power plant, which would burn trash for energy.

Hosmer asked for a council study session on the landfill capacity in the near future.


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