Your garbage is now going into Three Mile Canyon Landfill’s first modern, environmentally friendly cell
A new day dawned for the Three Mile Canyon Landfill last month, when its first double-lined cell received its maiden load of trash.
But among the eggshells, banana peels and unmentionables that tumbled out of the trash truck were dozens of cardboard boxes and even more plastic.
“Cardboard and plastic: those are our two biggest challenges,” Summit County solid waste superintendent Tim Loveday said.
Fundamentally, the landfill near Rockport that takes 80 percent of Summit County’s waste is doing exactly what it’s done for decades: burying trash in the ground. But Loveday is striving to keep improving on that task by diverting as much trash as he can to other uses. There are exciting programs on the horizon, he said, like cardboard bailing and composting in the near term and converting waste to energy maybe a decade way.
And the landfill is taking better care of the land than it has in the past. The double-lined cell Loveday helped usher into existence includes technology to protect the environment that wasn’t used when Three Mile Canyon Landfill opened. It’s the first new cell since the original was opened in the 1980s, and the first of six planned cell. It should last about seven years, Loveday said.
The cell that was recently decommissioned rises hundreds of feet in the air and holds about 400,000 tons of waste. The landfill is home to birds and marmots, and Loveday said he’s seen deer feeding right next to the 92,000-pound bulldozer that drives over the refuse to compact it.
The cell had been in operation since the 1980s, Loveday said, and back then, the environmental restrictions were looser. It was little more than just a hole in the ground.
Next to that trash mountain is the new cell, lined with three layers of highly engineered material to prevent contaminants from reaching groundwater and a draining system to handle runoff. The landfill also maintains groundwater monitoring stations.
As stormwater filters down through the trash, it picks up contaminants and ends up as a liquid called “leachate.” In the new cell, that leachate flows into a separate collection pond to evaporate, or is pumped back into the cell to help decompose the trash.
One layer of the barrier, which feels a bit like a winter floor mat for a car, is welded together to create water-tight seams. If there was a lake two feet deep sitting on top of the liner, Loveday said, it would take a drop of water 20 years to pass through.
Loveday has been on the job for about three years, but has spent about 30 years in the industry, mostly as a consultant in the private sector. It was on his watch that the landfill opened the first double-lined cell, though he notes it was already being planned before he arrived.
The man who’s in charge of dealing with Summit County’s waste says most people are thinking about recycling all wrong.
“Just because it’s recyclable doesn’t mean we want it,” Loveday said.
When the recycling from a commingled bin or the Park City Recycling Center gets trucked down to Rocky Mountain Recycling in Salt Lake City, it isn’t actually being recycled there, he said.
“We send it not to a recycler, but to a broker,” he said. “He sells what he can get value for.”
That might mean offloading to a factory that’s looking for No. 2 plastics to melt into packaging one day, or corrugated cardboard to turn into cereal boxes another.
If it doesn’t have value, it ends up in the landfill.
And right now, since China set higher purity standards for the recycling it will accept, Loveday said it’s nearly impossible to recycle plastic Nos. 3-7. That’s pretty much anything without a screwtop, including Ziploc bags, packaging and Saran Wrap, he said. And definitely not styrofoam.
What’s more, even if the recycling is sorted perfectly, if it arrives at the facility in a plastic bag, it’ll be sent to a landfill. It isn’t worth the hassle of having to disentangle garbage bags from the sorting machines. Loveday said he’s heard of some facilities posting $250,000 a year losses in downtime.
Glass can also contaminate a load because it’s too dangerous to be sorted, Loveday said. If crews hear breaking glass when recycling hits the tipping floor, the whole batch will be sent to the landfill.
The project cost about $1.2 million, he said — $450,000 for engineering and $750,000 for construction and materials. The engineering costs included a master plan for the area and the five other cells that are planned, which should extend the facility’s life by about 40 years, Loveday said. The 2018 master plan estimated that around 80% of what currently goes into the landfill is recyclable materials, primarily from the commercial sector.
The County Council supports his efforts to find creative solutions, he said, paying for the environmental protections in the new cell and studies to help determine what other plans might work in Summit County.
One program Loveday said he’s excited about it will enable the landfill to recycle the hundreds of tons of cardboard it receives each year. The landfill is in the process of purchasing a bailer, which compresses cardboard and binds it into a more transportable cube. There are two businesses that send about eight to 12 tons of cardboard to the landfill each month, he said. With the bailer, the landfill will be able to take that cardboard to a recycling facility in Salt Lake City instead of burying it.
The bailer costs about $15,000, he said, but it will probably pay for itself in less than two years.
There are also outside groups looking at creating an anaerobic compost digester, which could create methane that could be resold or compressed into fuel.
Key to these efforts is a waste characterization study to figure out exactly what the landfill takes in. The study breaks trash down into 30 categories, Loveday said, and estimates how much of each the facility receives.
Armed with those numbers, Loveday can better identify future solutions.
What stands in the way of such growth, though, isn’t a lack of support from Summit County or community desire to go green, Loveday said. It’s the same problem that plagues several Western states.
“The land is just too cheap,” he said.
It costs about $35 or $36 for every ton of trash that’s stored in the landfill, Loveday said, and Three Mile Canyon Landfill gets about 150 tons of it a day.
In Eastern states, it could cost $150 a ton, which has made innovative solutions more economically viable. It can be even more expensive in European countries, Loveday said, and he pointed to Germany as an industry leader in putting their trash to good use.
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