Where Does the Trash Go?
Trash generated by homes, institutions and businesses, also called municipal solid waste, is sent to a sanitary landfill for disposal. The general public often doesn’t make the distinction between a landfill and a “dump”, but the unregulated sites that were prevalent for many years no longer are allowed to operate. Illegal dumping or unregulated disposal sites creates serious public health and safety issues by contaminating surface waters and groundwater, releasing explosive methane gas, and attracting vectors of disease such as rats and flies.
In the 1980’s, the County began implementation of stricter landfill regulations. By 1994 all new sanitary landfills must comply with comprehensive federal regulations, called Subtitle D. Some of these regulations include:
- Restriction of landfill location in relation to wetlands, airports, fault zones and flood plains.
- Landfill design that includes an impermeable liner system and leachate collection to protect ground water.
- Groundwater monitoring well installation and sampling based on hydrogeologic studies of the site.
- Landfill gas collection and monitoring system to assure landfill gases are properly managed and do not migrate off-site.
- Approved plans for closure when the landfill has reached capacity.
- Financial responsibility for 30 years post-closure to assure ongoing monitoring of landfill gas and groundwater wells and to address subsidence and surface water control.
As of 2011, only one licensed sanitary landfill remains open in Saint Louis County. In addition, Saint Louis County also has only one open demolition landfill. A demolition landfill is restricted to receiving only construction and demolition wastes such as roofing shingles, dry wall and lumber. As a result, a demolition landfill is not required to meet the same standards as a sanitary landfill, but it still is permitted and inspected for compliance with strict design and operating criteria.
A transfer station is a facility where the trash is consolidated from the typical garbage truck with a 10 ton capacity to a large transfer trailer that can hold about 25 tons of waste. As landfills have closed, transfer stations are built to offer a more cost effective way for hauling companies to transfer wastes to landfills that are further away.
In mid-1990’s, when the Subtitle D regulations went into effect, there were 5 sanitary landfills open and operating in the County. There are currently three transfer stations in Saint Louis County and a fourth facility is licensed but not built.
Looking at this pattern, it is easy to see why the focus for over 15 years in Saint Louis County has been to utilize the voter approved landfill surcharge fee to implement public education and grant programs to encourage waste diversion. Diverting as much waste as possible to recycling centers and waste processing facilities located in the county conserves remaining landfill space, creates jobs and turns “wastes” that otherwise would be buried, into raw product that can be manufactured into new goods.