Landfills 101

Trash is part of our everyday lives. We have a throw-away, packaging-obsessed culture, constantly tearing into things only to discard the exterior. Trash is so easy to forget about once it’s in the can. We always move on, get distracted by the shiny and new. As far as the individual house, room, or office is concerned, clean-up is done when rubbish is in the bin. That immediate space just turned trash free; there’s no trash anywhere! When all you’re looking at is a spotless room, it’s easy to forget that what sits in the bin has to go somewhere. You got rid of it, but it’s actually still around. However, landfills are not an everyday thought for the average person. Trash, for most of us, usually ends right at the curb.

There’re some things we can all do to avoid unchecked personal use of landfills. Community members can feel good about recycling. Tons of household items can be recycled instead of sitting, in a landfill for decades. Not every neighborhood or office has a recycling strategy or easy access to materials though. Composting is another way to prevent landfill buildup, but that’s another step of work or hiring a service for anyone without the land or the skill needed.

At the end of the day, many recyclable and compostable goods still end up in a landfill.

My name is Dimery, and I do the very best I can to think critically about my carbon footprint. When I first approached Compost Haste to volunteer to do some freelance blogging for them, even I; the recycle-obsessed and composting newb that I am didn’t know anything about landfills specifically. I’ve been researching some stats lately and they are a little overwhelming and bleak. Very bleak. Some entry-level stuff I found interesting is below; your guide to Texas landfills / Landfills 101. I’ll be researching more general information on regulations and landfill activity for a series of posts coming this year. I will also be taking a look and maybe even a visit to my own local landfills in north Texas.

To begin with, Texas overall has 196 active landfills.

  • A Type I landfill is known as the typical “standard landfill” for Municipal Solid Waste disposal in Texas. We have 97 of these.
  • Type IV landfills only accepts brush, construction or demolition waste, and other similar non-putrescible waste. We’ve got 23.
  • Arid-exempt landfills are exempt from liner and groundwater monitoring requirements but have limited waste acceptance rates. There are 70 of these in Texas.
  • Monofills are owned or controlled by a county or municipality in which 12,000 or fewer residents live. These serve to dispose of demolition waste from properties with nuisance or abandoned buildings. Our state only has 6 of these.

In 2017, of the 196 active landfills, 128 were publicly owned. Approximately 53% of these publicly owned landfills were arid-exempt facilities with limited waste capacities.

Municipal Solid Waste probably needs to be defined. It’s not everything, just a lot of things. In our great state of Texas, we define Municipal Solid Waste as “solid waste resulting from or incidental to municipal, community, commercial, institutional, and recreational activities, including garbage, rubbish, ashes, street cleanings, dead animals, abandoned automobiles, and all other solid waste other than industrial solid waste.” There’s a lot more in here than in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s definition. Texans define waste in broader, more all-encompassing terms than the EPA and other states do. We basically say more things are trash and allow them in landfills as a result. Extra things that made it to our list include: municipal wastewater plant treatment sludges and construction or demolition waste. This is one reason why our per person disposal rate is higher than the national average. I found many places agreeing on the average amount of trash a person throws away. That woul be a little over 4 pounds of trash every day.

In 2017, approximately 35.31 million tons of waste was disposed in Texas landfills. Using the 2017 state population, the average disposal rate in Texas was 6.84 pounds per person per day.

Almost 7 pounds of stuff a day leaves your home and ends up somewhere else. Things end up there and stay there for the most part. Landfills are filling up and the problems with pollution are runoff are widespread. In this continuing series, I’ll not only look at landfills more specifically, but what other cities, states, and countries are doing to prevent these massive dumping grounds getting more out of control. We can all take small steps now to reduce our manufacturing of trash and use of easily discarded products. Change can come on a larger scale too and it has before. I will not only bring you the sad stats on how much trash we’ve accumulated, but small and big ways that you can help right now. Stay with me, yall.

*All the stats in this post are from the Municipal Solid Waste Review of 2017 researched by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. That document can be found here: https://www.tceq.texas.gov/assets/public/comm_exec/pubs/as/187-18.pdf

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