FOR THE PAST 20 YEARS, the solid waste industry has met and, in many cases, exceeded increasing expectations for landfill design and construction, groundwater monitoring and protection, wastewater collection and treatment, and public health and safety protection. However, controlling nuisances continues to be a problem for far too many landfill professionals.
Some common landfill issues, including odors, dust, noise and vectors, can be considered nuisances because they are unsightly, irritate the public, create safety hazards, or are harmful to the environment and public health. Considering its strides in overcoming far more technical problems, why isn't the industry doing a better job controlling nuisances?
The primary reasons include:
Complacency. For many years, landfill operators simply refused to acknowledge nuisance problems.
Shifting rules. Public involvement with and control over facilities is at an all-time high with no end in sight. What constitutes a nuisance in a community, therefore, often is changing.
Proximity. Surrounding communities are getting closer every day, and that means more chances for the public to be bothered by a landfill's operations.
Even knowing that they change, the expectations of everyone affected by the landfill must be exceeded. Nuisance control requires leadership and accountability from the facility manager. Those who lead, rather than react to nuisances, will work to minimize them to the greatest extent possible, even if no one is complaining. That attitude will help distinguish the landfill as a community asset rather than a liability. Most reasonable people, including regulators, will tolerate some level of impact (i.e. inconvenience or annoyance) as long as they see that a landfill operator is doing everything possible to minimize and mitigate nuisances.
Landfill nuisances fall into several categories, and each requires several steps to control. They include odor, litter, dust, mud, vectors, noise and, believe it or not, customers.
Odor control is the most critical issue facing landfill operators today. And, it is the most difficult nuisance to manage. Landfills that handle putrescible waste will experience odors, even those in arid regions. Historically, this nuisance generally was accepted by most of the affected parties as something that could not be controlled. Most people simply learned to live with the fact that it smelled bad around the landfill. The expectations, however, have changed.
Traditionally, deodorants and odor neutralizers were the first (and often last) line of defense for many landfill operators. While those products have their place, effective odor control must begin before the odors ever reach the surface. Landfill capping and active gas extraction must become the primary ways to control odors. On-site combustion — either by flaring or converting landfill gas to energy — direct gas sale and other means of gas removal can significantly minimize the odors and usually have an added economic benefit.
Landfill odors are produced by a variety of sources: decomposing gasses, landfill leachate, gas condensate and in-coming waste materials. Gas extraction systems require constant maintenance to insure that odor-causing leaks are promptly repaired. Daily odor surveys and a good rapport with key neighbors also will help a landfill manager truly understand how the odor control systems are working. A 24-hour odor hot line can significantly add to a landfill manager's understanding of how the landfill affects the neighbors. It also provides an opportunity for valuable feedback.
The bottom line is that landfills are expected to have no off-site odors, and facility managers must do a better job to minimize that nuisance. Today, a landfill's future is directly affected by its ability to successfully control odor.
Litter provides a visible opportunity for a landfill operator to demonstrate the ability to act quickly and effectively to control a nuisance. Typically, regulators and the general public understand that when the wind blows, the litter goes.
A good operator will react quickly and consistently when blowing litter causes a problem. There are several general ways to help effectively control litter, including placing an adequate amount of daily cover, teaching workers to remove the litter, properly untarping and cleaning out trucks, and constructing litter fences around the facility.
There is no excuse for a landfill to have a messy, litter-strewn appearance over an extended period of time. Everyone understands that all litter cannot be prevented, but it always must be quickly recovered. Therefore, plan, staff and budget for it, and adopt a culture in which workers will pick up litter even if they didn't cause it. Again, the goal is to exceed expectations.
Landfill Dust and Mud
Ideal weather conditions do not exist at most landfills, and that can cause nuisance problems. If the weather is too dry, dust is a concern. If conditions become too wet, mud can be an issue.
Using water trucks and water wagons can be very effective in controlling dust and mud. For example, applying water on unpaved roadways can help control dust. When possible, permanent on-site roadways into and out of landfills should be paved to minimize both dust and mud. A one-time blacktop application usually is less costly than ongoing maintenance of unpaved road surfaces. An on-site truck tire wash may also be necessary to prevent the tracking of mud off the site. Sweeping the local roadways can also help a landfill operator exceed community expectations.
A good offense is the best defense in controlling vectors. The goal is to prevent vectors from establishing a presence at a landfill, which takes diligence on the manager's part. Pest control services, good housekeeping, and, in some cases, professional animal control experts can assist with controlling vectors. In many cases, particularly with birds, seasonal changes can affect their presence.
Landfill noise is not usually considered a nuisance unless an operational change negatively affects neighbors. Landfill equipment back-up alarms and loud “jake” engine brakes are the noises most likely to produce complaints.
Explaining to the neighbors that truck back-up alarms protect workers usually will handle that issue. Encouraging truck drivers to use regular brakes rather than the “jake” engine brakes also can be effective. For loud facilities at the landfill, such as a gas-to-energy plant, the proper sound barriers and noise control devices should be incorporated into the facility's design.
Landfill operators usually do not see their customers as potential nuisances, but they should. Every truck that enters or exits a facility has the potential to add or detract from the landfill's image in the community.
The facility's customers should be encouraged to obey all speed and weight limits and litter laws in the communities they drive through. Truck safety and compliance with Department of Transportation rules have become major enforcement issues, and the industry should encourage its customers to comply with all local, state and federal requirements.
Meeting Your Community's Needs
Because most residents in a community do not see their trash being placed in the landfill, they don't experience the critical public service those facilities provide. However, by controlling the facility's nuisances, operators have a unique opportunity to exceed their expectations and to be viewed as an asset in the community.
As industry professionals, our job is to preserve public safety, protect our employees and be a good neighbor. Your success is contingent on community good will. To exceed the community's expectations, the entire team must be familiar with the company's standards of excellence. Successful nuisance control determines your image outside your gates as well as your future inside them.
Tim O'Donnell is general manager of Republic Services' Modern Landfill in York County, Pa.
WANT TO HEAR MORE ON THIS SUBJECT?
The author of this article will be a speaker in the “Managing Solid Waste Facilities to Control Nuisances” session at WasteExpo on Tuesday, April 4. The session, part of the Technical Issues tract, will run from 1:45 p.m. to 3 p.m.