Last week’s column presented thoughts on landfills by Brian Tippetts, who, aside from being a member of SWANA’s Executive Committee, is a long standing member of MSW Management’s Editorial Advisory Board. Not surprisingly, it sparked comments suggesting to me that he’s hit the mark on discussion topics. Therefore, I’d like to continue this thread, asking for your ideas. To make sure we’re all on the same page, I’ll once again present Brian’s thoughts, followed by a group of responses.
Landfill properties are huge assets; but more important than the landfill itself is that the space can also be used for processing and managing materials that don’t need to be buried. Look at the benefits landfills have:
* People in the waste materials management business know the landfills and their locations.
* Transportation logistics are known.
* Landfills have knowledgeable staff who can readily manage new activities.
* Infrastructure at landfills can readily support additional functions (roads, equipment, energy, utilities).
* Landfills are zoned in a way that would make it easy to do materials management and/or transfer.
* Landfills could easily have synergies with other businesses.
* It is much easier to expand activities at a landfill property than start at a new site.
Two consultants gave me their perspectives of the future of solid waste management. Allow me to grossly paraphrase and add some more substance to their thoughts.
As society demands more and more waste diversion from landfills while also focusing on financial austerity:
There will be a push to maximize collection efficiency through organized collection and uniform services within a collection region (this will reduce costs).
* Landfills will not go away, but they will not be the industry’s cash cows of days past (landfills must transform themselves into waste management industrial business parks).
* And to organize efficient collection and waste diversion, local government will have to play a larger leadership role in planning (local government’s role will grow).
My question is: What types of solid waste professionals will it take to lead us into our next era?
I agree with bulleted items in the post, but, like most things, it can be more complicated. Most landfill sites are well suited for access by truck, but may not be a good location for the general public to access to drop off things like e-waste. Some of the new conversion technologies may need things like significant quantities of water or connection to the electric grid that some landfills may not have easy access to. I do believe that, in the future, landfill managers will be better defined as resource managers. I think we will be diverting and recycling more of the wastestream and moving toward the EU model of only landfilling inert material that can not be used for any other purpose at the current time (zero waste?).
Bob and Brian both make great points and show great insight. I believe the transition in the US will take decades, however. There are still quite a few MSW facilities that have needed upgrades that won't ever get them. The concept of WM industrial parks is a good one, assuming the infrastructure is obtainable. Otherwise, most of these projects will be greenfield with all the permitting hassles to go through. Focus should include concentration on special wastes that we treat differently in some states. Also, the degreed “resource manager” of the future would benefit by attending schools that combine all the aspects of solid waste management, including engineering and marketing. Perhaps a master of science degree is appropriate.
The many points raised by Brian are all on the mark. I would add another advantage: Conversion of landfill gas to LNG vehicle fuel for use in collection vehicles is being pursued at many landfill locations. Who will lead us into the future? The Monterey Regional Waste Management District, in its 62-year history, has taken a long view in its operations, while continually taking small steps forward along a strategic pathway in its daily operations. The board has always taken an active role in working with staff, and it is the responsibility of staff to keep the board involved. Going forward, we will need creative, dedicated and knowledgeable people. As an engineer, I believe technical knowledge is important. But we will need to be accepting of new ideas and open to change as we adapt our operations for the future.
I also agree with the bulleted items in the post. Landfills are generally very well suited to be transformed into materials management centers that do a lot less landfilling. I believe that as a result of a long trend of municipal landfills closing and sending their wastestreams to regional private landfills that many of the municipal landfills that remain are ideally suited to become materials management centers. They have probably survived because they have good management, they solve problems, and they provide services their constituencies need. In the last week, I visited two such landfills that are leading the way in this transformation in surprising ways. Their tipping fees will become irrelevant to their bottom lines; tipping fee will simply be a tool they use to regulate how much waste they attract.
What are your thoughts on this?