Category Archives: safeBERM

Innovative Thinking 2

NIMBY, SEBY?

Let’s face it: nobody likes landfills. They’re ugly. They smell. They attract seagulls. But until we can devise methods to recycle or eliminate all residential and construction waste and coal ash, landfills have to be a fixture on our landscape for the foreseeable future.

According to the EPA, as of 2009 (the most recent statistic published), approximately 1,908 municipal solid waste (MSW) landfills were in the continental United States. When you size that up against the 3,537,438 square miles comprising this country’s land mass, their total footprint is pretty modest. But that’s cold comfort if you happen to live near a landfill.

As a consequence, communities are campaigning close their local landfills every day. Just Google “not in my backyard landfill” and you’ll come up with 2,790,000 hits.

Every time residents swing into action and win a NIMBY argument to get their nearest landfill closed, they really solve nothing. Waste will still be generated – ironically, some of it by them – and all they accomplish is to kick their cans, literally, down the road to SEBY – somebody else’s back yard. Maybe we should start calling it SEBY instead of NIMBY.

So, what’s to be done?

This is where knee-jerk reactions need to be replaced by innovative thinking. The problem of solid waste disposal belongs to everyone, not just those living near landfills who wish they were somewhere else.

Manufacturers need to find ways to reduce sold waste through more efficient packaging. The U.S. needs to encourage business to invent more ways to recycle. The U.S. recycling rate currently sits at 34.6% of total waste. This may seem acceptable, but much of the remaining recyclable material was being shipped to China – out of sight, out of mind.

Until January 2018. That’s when China began enforcing its “National Sword” policy that banned 24 types of solid waste, including plastics and unsorted mixed paper. It also set the contamination limits on what it would accept at 0.5%, which the U.S. is finding nearly impossible to meet, since many Americans think unwashed cans and bottles and greasy pizza boxes can be recycled (they can’t).

As a consequence, much of that recycling environmentally-minded people lug out to the curb is being incinerated or going to landfills – eating up precious landfill capacity that wasn’t in the original plans.

As it stands, by 2021 the U.S. will have only 15 years of landfill capacity left. In densely populated regions like the Northeast, capacity could max out in half of that time.

To compound the complexity of this issue, add a significant portion of the 2 billion cubic yards of legacy coal ash, now determined to be waste, looking for a home. It breaks the bank!

There is movement afoot. Residents of Deschutes County in Oregon want a new landfill, according to a recent survey. They looked at the cost increases of SEBY and decided it made more sense economically to take care of their own trash. So, before folks shut down their community landfill and assume their trash will be trucked to somebody else’s back yard without consequences of some kind, they should do their utmost to maximize what they have. The technology is out there. It just takes open minds willing to consider all the options.

Innovative Thinking

Innovation is not an abstract concept, but a desirable mindset.

You’ve probably heard the expression, “Thinking outside the box,” but how willing are you to put aside all your preconceived notions and actually do it?

True innovators make it habit. Their typical modus operandi is to view problems from every angle and brainstorm until they come up with a variety of creative solutions. They try until they hit on the combination that works best.

The methodology is in the definition of innovation provided by Oxford Dictionaries if you search online…

You get the picture. Granted, not everyone is cut out to be an innovative thinker, but it’s vital to have at least one on your solution team.

Incremental Innovation is Good, Too

Innovation doesn’t have to be earth-shattering. In fact, incremental innovation is most common; it builds on something that already exists.

safeBERM® technology is an example of incremental innovation. The methodology is leading-edge, but based on a solid foundation of simple, tried-and-true engineering principles.

Here are some recent scenarios with innovative responses to traditional dilemmas …

After two hours of evaluating a vendor’s recommendations for proper legacy CCR disposition, a utility’s conclusion was, “We don’t need to expand our on-site CCR landfill since we’ll most likely be converting our boilers to natural gas and won’t need the additional airspace.”

An innovative vendor’s response would be: “That’s the best news I’ve heard today. What you’re telling me is that there will be a larger footprint available on-site for proper legacy CCR disposition, so we don’t have to haul the CCR anywhere else. This is will save you time and money. It’s great!”

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A local landfill owner worried, “We’ve having more hurricanes and flooding than we’ve ever seen before, and now we have big concerns about how protected our landfill is against these events. Is there any way we can expand it AND address the risks?”

An innovator’s response: “We build you a safeBERM® that not only increases capacity, but also uses its bidirectional hydrostatic barrier properties to safeguard the surrounding environment against flooding and hurricanes.”

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A CCR “expert” expresses doubts about having enough beneficial use opportunities available to handle millions of tons of legacy CCR.

An innovator’s response: “Why stop at just one solution? Find more. How about landfills that need expansion? You can establish public-private-partnerships that can effectively handle CCR disposition while extending landfills’ useful lives. Those opportunities are out there. You just need to be open to finding them.

Everyone has a role to play in our environment. We’ve defined our role with our array of solutions. Have you?

Environmental Stewardship Series: Part 3 of 3

Life Beyond: Old Dumping Grounds are Ripe for Adaptive Reuse

Communities with areas in decline have embraced the concept of adaptive reuse to restore historic buildings and reclaim their decaying or abandoned urban landscape. Such projects involve salvaging as much of the existing building material as possible and repurposing it in new ways to make the most of the “good bones” of existing structures. This is a more cost-effective approach than razing entire blocks and rebuilding from scratch.

Adaptive reuse of land is no different. Areas that have served as solid waste landfills or coal ash ponds are not doomed to spend eternity as eyesores on the landscape. In many cases, adaptive reuse can transform that land into better spaces than it was to begin with.

Nowhere stands a more amazing example of this than in Israel. The Dirt described how the Hiriya landfill, commonly known as the “Mountain of Crap,” received 25 million tons of waste over its 60-year life. Flocks of birds drawn to the garbage were causing problems for Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport, and toxic runoff leached into nearby water supplies.

Hiriya closed in 1999 and began its transformation into the 2,000-acre Ariel Sharon Park, roughly three times larger than New York’s Central Park. Rainwater is now collected and filtered to irrigate plant life on the sprawling mound.

Nearby waste facilities still in operation process 90% of municipal waste, recovering metal and glass for recycling and producing bio-gas to generate electricity. In addition, methane gas recovered from still-decomposing materials within the mound generates enough electricity to run a nearby textile factory.

A man-made lake and redirected water systems created around the area now serve as buffers against flooding in South Tel Aviv and Holon. Hiriya has become a paradise for outdoors lovers, with walking and bike trails, gardens and wildlife habitats. The project’s completion is planned for 2020. TouristIsrael.com describes the site as an “ecological masterpiece.”

But Israel isn’t the only country to master adaptive land reuse. A similarly impressive example in the U.S. is Freshkills Park on Staten Island. At 2,200 acres, it’s the largest park developed in New York City in over 100 years. Amenities will include playgrounds, athletic fields, kayak launches, horseback riding trails, and large-scale art installations. It’s a work in progress, opening in phases through 2036.

Like Hiriya, Freshkills also has submerged gas wells collecting methane still being generated by the decomposing waste. It’s piped it to a power company that in turn uses it to power approximately 25,000 homes on Staten Island, generating $12 million for the city annually.

Predating both of these projects by several decades is Tifft Nature Preserve, three miles from downtown Buffalo, New York. In the 1950s and ‘60s, this 264-acre landfill accumulated nearly 2 million cubic feet of solid waste, which is now encased in clay and covered with soil. The site opened in 1972 as a nature refuge with five miles of trails and boardwalks, ponds and woodlands.

Transforming a blighted area into an oasis for people to enjoy is a wonderful outcome, but another adaptive reuse that’s growing in popularity is solar farming. Once a landfill is capped with an impermeable geomembrane, it becomes a suitable surface for solar panels, a renewable source of electricity for communities.

In North Carolina, the 48-acre Hickory Ridge Landfill had a relatively brief useful life from 1993 to 2006, but after it was capped in 2011 and covered with over 7,000 solar panels, it has essentially become an open-air power plant. Because the land wasn’t replanted, rainwater runs off the panels and down the sides of the mound, to be captured, filtered and reused.

In December 2017, the Orlando Utility Company’s Kenneth P. Ksionek Community Solar Farm brought Orlando one step closer to its goal of running on 100% renewable energy by 2050. The utility installed 20,369 of 37,544 solar panels atop concrete slabs on an 80-acre hill that’s filled with coal ash. The remaining panels sit on nearby flat land. The new $15 million solar plant generates enough electricity to power more than 1,400 homes in the area, costing less per kilowatt hour than fossil fuel, creating a win-win for the environment and the community.

These five examples show how foresight and smart adaptive reuse can ensure that no land goes to waste and that its assets can be put to use to maximize its potential for generations to come. Thrillist.com offers 11 more amazing stories of land reclamation.

The time to face the future is now. Environmental Stewardship requires innovation, forethought and a desire to look beyond immediate problems so you can see the better way of life that lies beyond the horizon and strive to achieve it.

Environmental Stewardship Series: Part 2 of 3

Is a landfill an asset?

The number of landfills in the U.S. is decreasing, resulting in dwindling airspace available to hold our waste. If you own a landfill, you must ask, “Is my landfill an asset or a liability?”

Despite recycling and Zero Waste initiatives across the county, the volume of waste generated hasn’t decreased to the point where we see reduced demand on airspace or an offset in the growing costs of proper disposal.

Compounding the problem is that the U.S. recycling industry shifted from domestic to overseas markets when China and other countries were clamoring for our raw materials. But now, those countries have become glutted, so they focus more closely on quality, and they discover that that much of what we sell them is contaminated, so those loads end up becoming unusable solid waste.

Because it’s prohibitively expensive to ship these rejected loads back to the U.S. for disposition, municipal recycling programs are taking a hard look at what they can continue to accept and sell. Unfortunately, the trend is toward less, not more.

This places the burden for solid waste disposition back on U.S. landfills.

Zero Waste initiatives – where, ideally, 100% of waste is put to beneficial reuse in some form – are noble to strive for, but they require significant compromises to life as we know it. How many of us are willing to go that extra mile and give up our trashcans? How long will it take to achieve zero waste?

It’s a problem that doesn’t have generations of time to solve. It’s growing larger and more pressing every day.

Communities that operate landfills can begin contributing to the solution today with a shift in attitude. Instead of considering their solid waste facilities eyesores that must be closed as soon as possible to appease residents whose mantra is, “Not in my backyard!” (the “NIMBY effect”), they should instead consider those landfills assets to be leveraged and maximized.

This keeps the waste local, reduces transportation costs and doesn’t – literally – kick the cans down the road for disposal in other localities.

Just about any landfill is an asset that can be operationally improved or expanded. At the end of its useful life, the land itself can be reclaimed and reused in a number of ways that benefit the entire community.

Until American innovators can step up and revive domestic recycling by inventing new uses for recyclable materials that other countries no longer want, it’s up to communities to fill the gap.

But let’s not stop at simply creating more landfill airspace. Environmental stewardship goes way beyond just protecting the environment. Localities should consider all stakeholders’ concerns and community needs (farm land, wetlands, lack of open space, beneficial use) and add them to the pot. When all options for landfill maximization are on the table to explore, it can result in winning propositions all the stakeholders can “live with.”

In the final post of this series, we’ll tackle how landfills can be adaptive reused.

Environmental Stewardship Series: Part 1 of 3

Change is Coming – Solutions Must be Ready

  • Earthquakes
  • Floods
  • Hurricanes

Our planet, especially here in the southeastern and eastern U.S., is being subjected to an onslaught of extreme weather events, such as freak earthquakes, massive floods and devastating hurricanes.

These events generate a steady flow of new concerns about the environment. Protection against rising water levels, for example, the threat flooding poses to sites that store hazardous chemicals discussed by Bacon’s Rebellion, should have environmentalists actively seeking answers.

Adding to the already long list, more questions are being raised as to the adequacy and strength of traditional safeguards to manage these threats.

Hurricane Florence in 2018 brought epic rains to North Carolina, eroding earth covering a coal ash landfill at Duke Energy’s now-inactive L.V. Sutton Power Plant near Wilmington. This landfill was constructed according to current regulations. Those traditional construction methods couldn’t contain the coal ash as water reached over the berm. This caused water-laced coal ash to flow beyond containment.

Credit: Waterkeeper Alliance Inc

At another coal ash site near the Waccamaw River in response to Florence, an inflatable dam was constructed to stop flooding from breaching the coal ash containment. But any inflatable structure can only be a temporary fix, at best.

These are just a few examples of new complications that current safeguard methodology can’t address. Innovation is needed to facilitate recovery from natural disasters, which are more frequent and catastrophic and reach farther inland as time goes on.

Innovative environmental stewardship is the answer.

Another U.S. environmental disaster 2,193 miles from the mainland is a perfect cautionary tale because it’s not a far-fetch possibility for many communities here. The territory of Puerto Rico is an island where many solid waste landfills already exceed capacity. Hurricane Maria in 2017 exposed a deadly CCR-related public health crisis that began unfolding in 2002, when AES Corporation began contaminating soil and groundwater by dumping over 2 million tons of coal ash without basic safeguards while producing only about 17% of the electrical power. The hurricane churned up the toxins, so the island now needs to find a safe CCR disposition strategy in addition to extending capacity for solid waste disposal. Macroencapsulation could solve both problems.

We must think beyond worst-case. These weather events are so severe that we’ve labeled them “thousand-year storms” on the assumption that such catastrophes typically happen only once every thousand years. But they’re becoming annual rituals in the U.S.

Much more stringent and lasting remediation is needed now by building protective structures that keep waste in and/or water out.

Macroencapsulation is an innovative solution that resolves multiple issues. For example, with long-term CCR disposition, instead of going low – such as digging ditches around coal ash ponds that are susceptible to overflowing, either by coal ash seeping out or encroaching waters seeping in – we need to go high.

We have plenty of CCR just lying around; it can be used as fill in fully lined macroencapsulated berms, bunkers, levees or dikes constructed around coal ash ponds, waste landfills or rivers bordering chemical facilities. This fulfills the dual needs of rendering the ash inert and untouchable by the elements and reclaims the land once occupied by coal ash ponds or solid waste for new uses. In addition, it protects that reclaimed land from any nearby rivers and lakes that may flood.

Instead of grasping for creative, limited or more costly methods of storm preparation, facilities can often implement foolproof macroencapsulated solutions, protecting the land against rising waters.

Some states have started to embrace these challenges, enhancing the importance of sound environmental stewardship in their communities.

It’s a win-win strategy from every perspective .