Got My Eye on You

NEW NEIGHBORS CAN Be CHARMING and fun to share cocktails and jokes with on the weekends. But sometimes, a rowdier crowd moves in next-door, creating late nights, noise and unkempt yards. While many people likely would categorize landfills as an unwanted neighbor, landfill operators can improve that first impression and create a working relationship with residents in the surrounding area.

It's not easy living in a community next to a landfill, which comes with all kinds of smells, noise, dust and traffic. Likewise, its not easy operating a landfill with neighbors always griping and making an already difficult job even more challenging. If landfill operators take the first step in showing good will, however, they may find that all parties can benefit from each other.

Consider that residents' complaints actually can be useful tools in managing a landfill. Concerns over odors, dust and other operational issues should not be considered a nuisance but rather as a warning. When people make the effort to call or write, it is not to be disagreeable, but generally to report a genuine problem. A resident gives landfill operators another set of eyes, ears and nose, all of which should be considered assets in monitoring landfills.

Landfill operators should be honest in their dealings with neighborhood groups and organizations. If a Citizens Advisory Committee offers suggestions, observations and criticisms, listen and take action. Review changes in operations or significant actions with neighborhood groups before implementing anything. Operators should not pacify groups with discussions of steps they do not intend to pursue, such as developing new protocols or purchasing new technology. Such superficial solutions only will result in long-term relations problems with residents and organizations.

Being a good steward to any wilderness adjacent to landfill sites can have a big impact on residents, as well. Once again, success depends on the sincerity of the efforts to protect and restore natural habitats. If the intent merely is to satisfy county or municipal requirements protecting the local environment, residents may sense the landfill's minimal commitment. On the other hand, using native plants to restore damaged habitats can illustrate to the community the landfill's efforts to lessen its effect on the surrounding environment.

For example, Puente Hills Landfill in Whittier, Calif., pays $1 per ton of its tipping fee to a local native habitat preservation authority as part of the Sanitation District's mitigation tipping fee policy to restore habitats. Its mandate is to acquire, preserve and restore the habitat in the vicinity of the landfill operation, and thus far, thousands of acres of wilderness adjacent to the landfill have been acquired and restored. The habitat now is providing shelter for a returning wildlife population. When the Puente Hills site closes in 2013, Los Angeles trash will be delivered to a new desert location, which also will pay $1 per ton to the new “Environmental Trust Account for a Species Habitat Conservation Plan.”

It's unlikely that residents will stop by their neighboring landfill with a bundt cake or a bottle of wine anytime soon. Nevertheless, if landfills operate with open and honest procedures, people living close by will have more to focus on than fears of a smelly, unsightly neighbor. Rather, they can anticipate the landfill being an active member of the community who is responsive and willing to invest in the local environment — and plan for when life next to the landfill is past.