For the past 14 years, officials at a landfill in New York have opened the site to the public annually as way to build relationships and remain transparent, in addition to having a little fun.
The Mill Seat Landfill in Riga, N.Y., operated by Houston-based Waste Management, will host the year’s open house on July 28 as an educational event. It's aimed at giving residents insights into how the landfill operates, including on its renewable energy production.
An information fair with more than 20 displays will also give attendees the opportunity to talk with all of the entities that work in conjunction with the landfill, including engineers, contractors, consultants and regulators.
“The open house offers an up-close look at the highly engineered infrastructure that is the cornerstone of each Waste Management disposal facility,” says Nicole Fornof, communications and municipal relations manager for Waste Management of New York. “The goal is for attendees to learn about how Waste Management’s landfills are safe, necessary and protective of the environment. We value the opportunity to engage with customers and neighbors, while offering education and information about the landfill operation.”
Typically, more than 1,000 area residents visit Mill Seat Landfill’s annual open house, which is free and open to the public.
“Transparency is key to building public trust. By opening our doors to the public, we send the message that we are confident in the high quality, safety and operating standards of Mill Seat Landfill. Waste Management is a trusted and valued community partner, helping and giving back to the communities it serves,” says Fornof.
Mill Seat Landfill also has a citizen’s advisory board, which acts as a formal liaison for the community to the landfill. Each member of the board represents a neighboring township.
“The residents of Riga are fortunate to have Mill Seat Landfill because it’s state of the art and it’s been an extraordinarily good neighbor,” says Peg Steffan, chairwoman of the boad. “Everybody goes to the open house like they’re going to grandma and grandpa’s family picnic. It’s been an asset to the town.”
One of the most popular parts of the open house for attendees is a bus tour of the landfill. The Mill Seat Landfill staff provides guided tours of the operation, answering questions as they drive through the site.
“Telling the story of how we recover the resource in waste by producing clean, renewable energy and how we enhance the environment by conserving land for wildlife habitat is even more powerful when someone witnesses it firsthand,” says Fornof.
During the open house, Mill Seat Landfill employees also will man information booths, explaining the onsite renewable energy facility, the groundwater monitoring system and the landfill's wildlife habitat conservation program.
A life-size replica of the landfill liner and a landfill gas collection will also be on display, as well as the heavy equipment and vehicles that are a key part of everyday operations. Contractors provide demonstrations of the welding process for the HDPE plastic involved in liner construction, showing quality assurance protocols.
“Each year we have a theme for our open houses, which allows us to make a new or interesting Waste Management service the focal point of the event. Past topics include single-stream recycling, clean transportation and renewable energy,” says Fornof. “We chose this year’s theme in order to shed light on the many Waste Management landfills that provide protected habitat for wildlife, including pollinators.”
Additionally, the open house will host games to add a fun, yet educational aspect. At this year’s event, visitors will have the chance to play a game called “Name that Pollinator” and test their knowledge about which types of pollinators help produce various foods and plants. An interpretative sign describing the native plants in the onsite pollinator garden and the pollinator species they support also will be unveiled at the landfill’s open house, according to Fornof.
The Mill Seat Landfill began as a municipal operation in 1993 under the ownership of Monroe County. In 2002, Waste Management became the private operator of the site.
“Waste Management and Monroe County work collaboratively to provide sustainable waste management to the region,” says Fornof. “Waste Management often hosts open houses to educate the community at many of our landfills across North America.”