Landfills Reaching Capacity . . . Are we Running Out of Space?

While engineers and scientists have made dramatic breakthroughs to make the disposal of municipal solid waste much more efficient, many of our landfills are reaching capacity. And as we know, we have a finite amount of space.

In its most recent solid waste report (June 2015), the EPA noted that as of 2014, Americans generated 254 million tons of waste. The good news is that the amount of waste that went into landfills dropped from 145.3 million tons in 1990 to 134.3 million in 2013.

The EPA reports that nationally, landfill capacity is “sufficient for our current disposal practices” but that some regions have limited disposal options.

Quick Facts about Landfills

  • As of 2013, the EPA estimated that the amount of municipal waste disposed of in US landfills is about 265 million metric tons.
  • Organic materials are estimated to be the largest component of municipal solid waste (MSW), with paper and paperboard accounting for 29%, and yard trimmings and food scraps accounting for another 27%.
  • The balance of MSW includes plastics (12%), metals (9%), rubber, leather and textiles (collectively 8%), wood (approximately 6%), and glass (5%), with other miscellaneous wastes making up the remaining 4% of MSW.
  • In 2010, Americans recovered almost 65 million tons of MSW (excluding composting) through recycling.
  • Leachate treatment facilities at modern landfills are capable of removing almost all organics and over 85% of heavy metals.

Did you Know?

  • In 1986, there were over 7,600 dumps in the United States (a “dump” is essentially slang, including both permitted landfills and other legal and illegal waste disposal sites).
  • By 2009, there were just 1,908 permitted landfills nationwide. That’s a 75% decline in less than 25 years.

On the flip side:

  • Consolidation of many multiple landfills into single, efficient facilities has been responsible for much of the decrease.
  • Sophisticated technology has made each landfill more efficient, so that each acre of landfill, on average, is able to take on 30% more waste.

The Role of Environmental Engineering Firms in Managing Municipal Solid Waste

Landfills, composting facilities, material recovery facilities (MRFs), and transfer stations are key elements to any municipality’s waste management solutions. In addition to discovering new locations for such facilities, environmental engineers must consider the increasing costs of hauling wastes over long distances.

HSA Golden offers a wealth of experience and expertise in designing, permitting, and constructing waste management and disposal facilities. For every project, we consider efficiency, safety, and cost-effectiveness, in addition to impacts on the environment and on the community. If your project involves any aspect of solid waste management, recycling, composting or the permit process and you would like our expert consultation, call us at 1-407-649-5475. Click here for a free project evaluation.