Before environmental regulations that govern landfills were developed, we used to have these things called dumps. It generally meant you could just dig a big hole in the ground or find an open field and throw trash in it. Since there were no rules governing these dump sites, it was essentially a big free for all. That means today we’re spending a lot of time and money cleaning up the pollution caused by these sites. And today, we also have a better, safer place to put trash. That place is called a landfill, and it’s probably not what you think. Here are five things you probably never knew about modern landfills.
- Building a landfill is anything but simple. Modern landfill construction is strictly regulated. Sections of landfills, called cells, are constructed according to detailed plans, which must be approved by the state regulatory body [in Granger’s case, the Michigan Department of Energy, Great Lakes, and the Environment (EGLE), formerly known as the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality] before construction begins. The bottom of the cell contains layers of different materials that help keep things in and pipes that help us collect liquids and gases. (Find out more about landfill construction.) Once a landfill cell is complete, a construction report must be submitted and approved, again by EGLE, before a single piece of trash is put in it.
- Being a good neighbor is an important part of running a landfill. We do our best to make sure none of our neighbors really know we are here, except in a positive way. But with a landfill, you’re dealing with trash, which means you can have trouble with odors, blowing items and big truck traffic in and around the landfill. We won’t say we’re perfect, but we and other landfill owners do our best to control these conditions the best we can. Some ways we do that are monitoring weather conditions and only doing certain types of work when the wind is blowing in a favorable direction, using various forms of dust control on the internal landfill roads and hiring a street sweeper to keep dust down on the surface streets, using fencing to control blowing trash (and temporary workers to pick it up when it does blow) and using different management practices to control odor. It’s a challenging job, but it’s an important priority.
- Technology is a part of everyday operations at a landfill. GPS technology and related software tell us how full different areas of the landfill are and help us achieve optimum compaction on the fill area—you don’t want to compact too much and it’s not worth the effort of overcompacting. We use software that allows us to remotely monitor and control pumps for leachate (the liquid in the trash that it is collected and sent to the water resource recovery facilities for treatment) and collection and makeup of landfill gas. Cameras on Granger trucks and heavy equipment enhance efficient operations and safety. Learn more about how we use technology at Granger here or here.
- Landfills provide jobs for many different types of workers. With so much work to do in the landfill, it’s no wonder there are so many people involved in doing that work. It’s not just the staff at the gate who record information about loads coming in or laborers who take care of land and equipment maintenance around the property. It’s also the surveyors who take important measurements for different projects and heavy equipment operators who compact the trash, move it to different locations and cover it at the end of the day, as well as preparing areas for landfill construction projects. There are also engineers, who plan, coordinate and supervise construction projects, ensure compliance with regulations, complete reporting, interface with regulatory bodies and more. Find out more about how one engineer at Granger does her job to ensure we are in compliance here.
- Landfills can be used as a resource. At many landfills around the country, including Granger’s two landfills, landfill gas that comes from decaying trash is being collected and harnessed to make power. Gas flows through a system of pipes at Wood Street and Grand River Avenue Landfills to on-site generating stations owned by Energy Developments Limited. At these sites, the landfill gas is used to power generators that make electricity. Learn more about how waste in landfills can be a valuable resource here.
So there you have it. The story of today’s landfills is more complicated and more interesting than most would think. If you’re intrigued by this story and want to know more, consider taking a tour of a Granger landfill.