For more than a decade, land disposal has been regarded as the last choice in an integrated waste management system after waste minimization, reuse, recycling, and incineration with and without energy recovery. In fact, a September 2009 Sierra Club publication recommends entirely phasing landfilling out of municipal solid waste management as we move toward a zero waste environment. Like them, I optimistically look forward to the day when we spend more time thinking about the long-term effects of production than we think about consumption.
That said, I have the opportunity to provide tours of our facility in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Visitors include secondary and post-secondary students, special interest and civic groups and foreign tourists. Invariably, one of the touring party will tell a story of when their father or grandfather used to take them to the “dump” when they were a child. They recount the sites and smells of a time when there were materials piled all over the place, open burning was common and scavenging was not only allowed but encouraged. I never grow tire of hearing them exclaim, “this isn’t anything like I remember!
If that’s how you remember it, I’m pleased to tell you, it isn’t anything like that anymore. Today, a landfill isn’t just an area for disposing items that we just can’t reduce, reuse or recycle. It’s the last point where we have an opportunity to educate the community about the real-life effects of our communal consumption. If handled correctly, it is the also last point of diverting materials such as concrete, landscaping and wood waste, televisions and computer materials, metals, batteries, paint, tires and freon. All landfills in the state of Texas are required to screen for prohibited materials such as tires, paints, oil, freon, anti-freeze, gasoline, liquids, but many of them also provide a program whereby citizens can drop materials so that they will be sent offsite to appropriate disposal facilities.
For the last two decades, landfills have evolved into areas where air and water quality are closely monitored. One of the primary air quality concerns is methane. For a while now, methane has been closely watched for migration at the boundaries so that neighboring areas are kept safe. Now, methane production is viewed as an opportunity for projects that might direct-fire boilers or produce electricity. Several area landfills such as Denton, Arlington, Farmer’s Branch and Garland are involved in such projects.
Water quality is a high priority for solid waste operations. In the past, dumps were unlined, allowing rainwater and the liquids in the waste to filter down to the groundwater underneath. This is no longer the case as they are now required to be lined with a thick geomembrane liner and a system for pumping the liquids out to collection tanks to prevent them from intruding on underlying aquifers. As the next natural progression, some area landfills have wetlands adjacent to them. The City of Grand Prairie is currently in the process of constructing a functioning wetland on deed restricted property between the landfill and the Trinity River. This area, covering 77 acres, is being studied by the University of North Texas for baseline data regarding hydrologic cycle, annual water retention and existing macroinvertibrates and wetland vegetation.
In conclusion, waste management is changing in exciting ways. Trips to the dump are things of the past but opportunities for environmental education are everywhere you look.
Grand Prairie Landfill
1102 MacArthur Blvd.
Grand Prairie, TX 75050
Email Solid Waste Division