Reports Find Pennsylvania Reaching Disposal Limit

Pennyslvania is fast-approaching a waste disposal crisis at its 49 landfills and six incinerators, according to a study recently conducted by the Pennsylvania Waste Industries Association (PWIA), Lamoyne. Specifically, PWIA estimates that the state has less than 6.3 years of available capacity in its municipal solid waste (MSW) landfills, with less than two years of remaining capacity in the eastern half of the state.

The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Harrisburg, agrees landfill space is shrinking, but has estimated 12 years before reaching capacity.

Both analyses are based on permitted volume and disposal volume statistics for 2000, as published by the DEP. However, Patryck Paul, DEP information specialist for waste and recycling, says the difference in numbers is due to PWIA having increased the amount of trash per year to get its estimates, whereas the DEP kept the numbers at the 2000 level.

“Pennsylvania is in such a population-neutral growth period that we don't want to speculate on additional amounts of trash,” he says.

Disposal space is shrinking because of a de facto state-imposed landfill moratorium, says Mary Webber, a PWIA consultant who worked on the study. “There has been no legislative activity, so it is not an official moratorium,” she explains, “but the last permit that was issued was more than a year and a half ago, so it's implied.”

According to PWIA's analysis, in the past year and a half, the DEP has prevented nine applications for landfill permit expansions or new facilities. Three permit expansion applications and four new facility applications were denied; two were revoked for existing waste disposal facilities.

“PWIA's members were concerned because they realized that they are running out of capacity, so we looked at the amount of waste disposed of on a daily basis,” Webber notes.

If the situation remains unchanged, PWIA says that by the end of next year, Pennsylvania's southeastern, northeastern and south central regions will face a capacity deficit of more than 12,000 tons per day (tpd). The north central region will reach capacity by the end of 2006. The eastern half of the state, however, will be hit hardest.

Additionally, as landfills in the eastern and central parts of the state begin to shut down, waste will need to be shipped an additional 200 to 400 miles across the state to remaining facilities in western Pennsylvania and Ohio, increasing costs as well as the volume of trucks on the highways, says Thomas E. McMonigle, PWIA president. PWIA estimates that by 2004, truck traffic will increase by as much as 150,000 miles per day, or an estimated 47 million miles per year.

Currently, Pennsylvania is the second-largest trash importer in the country.