I've just returned from landfill camp. Actually, it was more serious than that - it was an international conference on landfills which was held on an island off the coast of Italy.
Sardinia '93 was the fourth gathering of landfill experts from around the world, but primarily the delegates were from Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
I was only one of a few Americans who made the 5,000+ mile journey to listen to landfill professionals share their experiences and debate various theories on landfill management.
Some of the interesting topics of discussion at the conference included the United States and the European Economic Community's (EEC) landfill regulations (not much difference here - protecting the air and water), dry tomb versus wet landfills (to degrade, or not to degrade: that is the question); and the possibility of groundwater contamination via landfill gas migration (if you've got VOCs, it could be just gas).
There were a few basic types of viewpoints represented at Sardinia: those from academicians, government officials, consulting engineers and, of course, practitioners.
The United States was well-represented by such notables as the University of Wisconsin's Bob Hamm, Environmental Protection Agency's Susan Thorneloe and Ted O'Neill from the Chester County (Pa.) Solid Waste Authority.
I also gained a wider perspective on the various subjects through discussions with other Americans including John Pacey, John Hull, Luis Diaz and Bill Forester.
Luckily for me, there were a large number of English-speaking representatives from countries as diverse as Denmark, Turkey, England, Italy and Croatia who personally shared some of their experiences with me.
So, what did I learn? The technological problems facing landfills in the United States are shared by landfill professionals around the world. Issues surrounding site preparation or monitoring, for example, are no different in South Africa than they are in South Carolina.
I also noted during certain presenta-tions and panel discussions that delegates from countries such as Germany or England seem to be lobbying for the acceptance of their techniques, possibly in preparation for the evolving EEC regulations.
While some speakers argued for what others perceived as "over- engineered" landfills, many simply presented case studies of well-conceived, designed and operated facilities.
The atmosphere at Sardinia '93 was somewhat rarified. The setting was spectacular, the food Italian (its own superlative) and the people, interesting, intelligent and well-informed.
Certainly this conference reminded me that landfills represent difficult engineering tasks. Unlike Italian cheeses and chocolates, its sig- nificance may take me a while to digest.