Today, the U.S. is experiencing two distinct trends in waste management: 1) overall landfill capacity is decreasing, and 2) localities are finding more innovative ways to reclaim maxed-out landfills and repurpose them into beneficial public spaces.
Over the past 20 years, the total number of working landfills has dropped from 20,000 to just 1,900. One reason is that as older landfills reach capacity, the capital cost to expand them has become prohibitive. And new landfills aren’t popping up because state and federal permitting regulations have become more stringent. Not to mention that for nearly every proposed landfill, there’s a highly vocal contingent of concerned residents fighting not to have it anywhere near them.
In any event, operating a landfill isn’t as financially satisfying as it used to be.
Since human-generated waste is hardly headed for extinction, this dearth of landfill airspace might be disastrous if not for recycling, which has advanced significantly. Today, approximately 45% of our waste gets recycled. This is an impressive achievement when you consider that the U.S. generates 249 million tons of solid waste and 450 million tons of construction and debris material annually.
In keeping with the spirit of recycling, as landfills reach the end of their useful lives, it makes sense to reuse the land they occupy. Worldwide, former landfills are being transformed into parks and sites of housing developments and schools.
However, this beneficial reuse endgame is a fairly recent development, and many landfills don’t have infrastructure now in place to avoid the array of design challenges that must be overcome before transformation is possible.
For example, mature landfills may have waste piled to a peak. Depending on the landfill’s total acreage, the peak’s plateau may be a sizeable area, but the slopes around it are still wasted space. That’s why some retired landfills just get covered with top soil and planted over. Instead of mountains of waste, they become mountains of greenery — pretty, but essentially useless.
As populations grow and vacant land becomes scarce, developers are setting their sights on landfills, which often sit in the midst of populated areas, prime for residential or commercial building or recreational use.
One such notable example is the former Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island in New York. At 2,200 acres, it was once the world’s largest dump — a dangerous, odiferous eyesore. It closed in 2001, and in 2008 began a 30-year transition into a magnificent park three times larger than Manhattan’s Central Park.
Other forward-thinking localities would be wise to re-evaluate their landfill infrastructure and ensure that perpetually usable acreage is its ultimate goal. EnCAP-IT’s macroencapsulated berm solutions not only maximize a landfill’s capacity today, but set the stage for its eventual closure to supply the greatest acreage possible, a win-win scenario that maximizes potential ROI in both phases.