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WASTING WASTE: SCIENCE SHOULD DRIVE PUBLIC POLICY AT OUR LOCAL LANDFILLS

Wasting Waste will be a series of posts looking at the Los Angeles region’s waste infrastructure, both the good and the bad.

The Sunshine Canyon Landfill is one of greater Los Angeles’s largest and most important landfills, and considering its size, and relative close proximity to the urban core, it operates relatively smoothly, gets the job done, and generally goes unnoticed by most Angelenos.  On average, the landfill receives approximately 7,800 tons of trash per day, and after 2014 when the Puente Hills landfill closes, it will be the largest disposal facility in the region.  Within the landfill, there is approximately 10 miles of pipes that remove gases from the decomposing waste.  These pipes are also part of a gas/methane capture system, which helps collect methane gases commonly created in landfills, and wisely uses it as an energy source to generate electricity.

Although this system is obviously important to advancing various environmental goals, I’ve learned that the system has been compromised by a curious and perhaps misguided practice mandated by County regulators.  While most state-of-the-art landfills cover their active disposal areas each evening, then peel back that cover in the morning to allow for waste depositing to continue, that’s not what’s happening at Sunshine Canyon Landfill. Currently, the County of Los Angeles Department of Public Works requires the Sunshine Canyon Landfill to place nine-inches of compacted soil over the waste each day without allowing the landfill to peel it back the next morning. This was done in response to concerns about potential odors despite the fact that an independent environmental agency – created by County and City government – stationed at the landfill has never recommended that such a policy be instituted.

Granted, while the intent of trying to protect neighbors from odors is honorable, the daily nine-inch soil cover rule has produced some unintended consequences that could be avoided.  Several studies  presented to the County explained that because the 9 inches of  soil cannot be removed the next day, the left-over layer of soil has disrupted the natural flow of the various liquids in the landfill, leading to increased liquid accumulation in the gas collection wells. This has not only hurt the gas capture system which will only lead to increased greenhouse gas emissions, but has actually increased the potential for odor issues. Curious.

Meanwhile, even though it would seem that everyone understands that this system doesn’t make much sense, the practice continues notwithstanding five studies by landfill engineering experts that all say that the policy of leaving the nine inches of daily soil cover on  (and not peeling it back on a daily basis) isn’t working.  Considering this, the County should really give this issue some reconsideration for the best interest of the environment , and really give some thought to the various alternative cover strategies used successfully by other landfills across the country to reduce emissions while at the same time killing odors.

 

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