Innovation Tops Landfills' Agenda

Competition among solid waste landfill operators is intense. In the face of burdensome regulations, some managers have successfully used innovative landfill techniques to lower costs.

Three factors have contributed to today's business climate. First, new landfills were built to accommodate projected capacity shortages. Second, newly created recycling and waste reduction programs have reduced the amount of waste headed to landfills. Finally, increasingly stringent environmental regulations have significantly raised the cost of facility development.

All three factors have dramatically affected the economics of operating today's landfill. This trend has produced larger facilities that require higher daily waste volumes to re-main profitable.

Maintaining high customer service standards while operating at the lowest possible cost has become particularly difficult, especially for small- to medium-sized landfills. They must manage finances effectively or risk going out of business.

How are managers keeping costs down? Innovation, research and good community relations are key.

Sound Public Relations Landfill operators must have solid community support. Because regulatory agencies are increasingly sensitive to local concerns, elected officials have a loud voice in landfill siting and operating decisions. Concerns such as truck traffic, waste importing, odors, noise and dust must be addressed.

A Host Community Agreement can help operators avoid considerable conflict. These agreements, which clearly address potential problems and provide mutual benefits, also create a framework for addressing future concerns.

For example, through a Host Community Agreement, the Environ-mental Quality Co. (EQ), Ypsilanti, Mich., was allowed to expand three landfills within the past three years. In Canton Township, Mich., the community supported reopening and expanding the landfill because it received a portion of the tipping fees as well as free disposal services. The tipping fee revenue will be used to help build a $14 million community recreation center.

In return, the township will allow 11 landfill cells to be constructed on the 200-acre site, creating more than 15 years of disposal capacity.

A Host Community Agreement al-so helped win approval for a three-cell expansion at the Auburn Hills, Mich., Oakland County landfill, providing approximately 12 years of additional capacity. The city will receive a portion of tipping fees and, after closure, the company will develop the site's perimeter for commercial and light industrial uses.

In the third case, Berlin Township, Mich., will receive some of the tipping fees and financing assistance for a sewer line and two fire stations in exchange for supporting a vertical expansion of a construction and demolition landfill in Monroe County. This will extend the facility's life by approximately 25 years.

Dollars And Sense Issues All landfill operators share a similar goal: to minimize operational costs and maximize available air-space. This is done by landfilling as much waste as possible, at a reasonable margin, and controlling costs for construction, leachate management and daily cover.

Aside from compaction, other methods such as landfill mining can increase capacity. For example, earlier this year, 1.6 million yards of waste covering 45 acres was excavated at the Canton Township landfill. The material, which came from three landfills that had previously occupied the site, will be removed to construct new cells.

Under Michigan's Act 307, one of the old cells was classified as polluted. Its excavation reportedly is the first voluntary cleanup of its kind by a private organization, demonstrating that the operators are active members of the community.

Innovative scrap tire disposal is another way for operators to control costs. Many operators ban tire disposal because they're bulky and tend to float in the waste. The Can-ton Township landfill, however, has found that using shredded scrap tires as daily cover generates revenue and eliminates a fixed cost.