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Largest American landfill shuts down while HK plans to expand existing landfills

The largest American landfill, located at Puente Hills in Southern California, has been closed down.

While its closure has been an admistrative certainty – a decision made in 2003 – what made it possible is the recycling efforts that goes into sorting trash. In addition to residential efforts, privately-operated waste disposal companies operate their own recycling facilities, which ensures that the maximum amount of recyclables is extracted and exported for re-use in manufacturing. The landfill thus saw its input drastically reduced from 13,200 tons a day in 2003, to 7,500 tons a day in 2013 – a number that can be handled by alternative facilities, avoiding a ‘trash’ crisis when the landfill closed.

Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, officials are pushing to expand its existing landfills, paying lip service to the concerns voiced by nearby residents about the impact on their living environment. To make matters worse, their insistence in building an incinerator as the future go-to facility for trash disposal not only threatens to render recycling efforts redundant (since incinerators will need to take the recyclables and additional fuel to combust waste), it will continue to feed the necessity for landfilling, in order to dispose of the highly toxic ash produced at the end of incineration – an even more harmful substance to be landfilled than normal trash.

from Steve Scauzillo of the San Gabriel Valley Tribune:

Puente Hills Landfill will close forever Thursday

For the first time in more than half a century, garbage will no longer be buried at the Puente Hills Landfill.

The largest landfill in the United States that towers as high as a 40-story building over the 60  Freeway near Industry and has been the final resting place of 130   million tons of trash since 1957, some of it buried 500 feet deep, is locking its gates forever.

Due to a conditional use permit negotiated in 2003 and an end date stamped in indelible ink by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, the landfill will close for good at 5  p.m. today.

The closure of Puente Hills, a 630-acre landfill operating on a 1,365-acre site, means that for the first time in the history of Los Angeles County a majority of its residents’ trash will be buried in Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

The Los Angeles County Sanitation District operates the Puente Hills Landfill as trash trucks deliver trash on Monday October 21, 2013.The Sanitation district is closing the Puente Hills Landfill, the largest landfill in the nation on Oct. 31. It has been operating since 1960. (Keith Durflinger/San Gabriel Valley Tribune)

What will happen to about one-third to one-half of Los Angeles County’s trash?

Eventually, the county plans on loading waste dumped by residential and commercial garbage trucks from the county’s 88 cities onto rail cars. The trash train will travel 220 miles to an abandoned gold mine in Imperial County known as the Mesquite Canyon Landfill.

But officials with the county Sanitation Districts say the waste-by-rail operation won’t leave the station for at least another five years.

Until then, trash will be separated from recyclables at two ramped-up Material Recovery Facilities run by the Sanitation Districts, one in Downey and the other situated at the base of the Puente Hills Landfill in unincorporated Industry, appropriately named the Puente Hills Material Recovery Facility. Residual waste will be buried at out-of-county landfills.

At both MRFs, a combined 10,000 tons per day of trash will be deposited.

First, recyclables — newspaper, cardboard, plastic, glass, cans, etc. — are sorted and bailed. Cubed bails are taken to the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles and sold to overseas markets. They are shipped by cargo containers to China and other Asian countries, where manufacturing plants re-use the materials to make toys, electronics, and more plastic bags and containers.

The Sanitation Districts have made it easy on garbage-truck drivers. They will take the same exit off the 60  Freeway and drive the same entrance road to the landfill but will make a right turn halfway up the ramp leading to the gleaming, new 24-hour Puente Hills MRF.

Before the closure, the MRF on Workman Mill Road was taking about 200 tons per day. Starting Friday, that will ramp up to thousands of tons a day.

“It will be 10 times more than it is currently taking. We expect it to go to 2,000 or 3,000 tons per day literally overnight,” said Charles E. Boehmke, who heads the Sanitation District’s Solid Waste Management Department.

Second, non-recyclables or residual waste will be trucked to two different landfills in Orange County, one in Brea and the other near Irvine, Boehmke said. The contract with Orange County expires June 30 2016, he said.

Meanwhile, Industry-based Athens Services, which serves 21 cities or communities exclusively and 30 on a nonexclusive basis, will be hauling trash to its own MRFs, one in Industry and one in the San Fernando Valley community of Sun Valley, said Gary Clifford, executive vice president.

Leftover waste will be hauled on large trucks and buried at six landfills in San Bernardino County operated by Athens, including facilities in Barstow, Landers, Colton and Rialto, Clifford said.

Waste Management, Inc., one of the nation’s largest trash companies that serves 20  million people, will take its Southern California trash to El Sobrante Landfill in Corona, a site in Riverside County.

The landfill closure also ends a long fight by residents of Hacienda Heights to close the landfill.

“I will hike up into the hills …  to take one last look at trash trucks dumping at the landfill. Unfortunately, I still have great memories of the deer-filled canyons that used to be there before the Sanitation Districts received permission to move into the canyons,” said Jeff Yann, Hacienda Heights resident.

Los Angeles city residential trash customers will see their trash go to Sunshine Canyon Landfill in the San Fernando Valley. But about half the waste from L.A. comes to Puente Hills, Boehmke said. The Sanitation Districts still operate two landfills, Scholl Canyon Landfill near Glendale and the Calabasas Landfill. However, both are restricted to local waste, Boehmke said.

Losing Puente Hills at one time would’ve triggered a trash disposal crisis. But now, the trash field has widened as more private companies operate MRFs and landfills of their own, bypassing government operations.

Athens is a good example. It may still use the Puente Hills MRF on occasion, Clifford said, but mostly it can control costs by using its own facilities.

“We have our customers’ bases covered,” he explained. “Our cities are happy we have options.”

Clifford would not say if Athens’ customers will see rate hikes. He said the company is negotiating with its service cities.

Boehmke said the cost of dumping trash at the Puente Hills MRF will rise by $7.30  per ton. He assumes haulers will pass that on to customers. But he figured the higher tipping fees at the MRF will only cause about a $0.50 to $0.60 per month increase in average residential trash bills.

“So, the disposal end of it doesn’t go up much at all,” Boehmke said.

The price of hauling trash by train to Mesquite Regional Landfill some 220 miles from Puente Hills may cause another bump in trash hauling prices. “It will be five years before that becomes economical,” Boehmke said.

The Puente Hills Landfill once took in a lot more waste than today. In its heyday, it received the maximum of 13,200 tons per day and would close by noon, Boehmke said. It even received old buildings destroyed by the Whittier earthquake of 1987 and burned out storefronts after the Rodney King riots of 1992.

But the high trash volume slowed abruptly in 2007, when tonnage dropped drastically. In 2013, the landfill was taking in about 7,500 tons of rubbish a day, Boehmke said, less than half its maximum. During the Great Recession that followed, much less demolition and construction waste came to the landfill. The tonnage drop made some economists look at landfills as an early indicator of the health of the economy.

Archeologists, engineers even architecture students came to the Puente Hills Landfill to study what is an urban edifice made of garbage, fill dirt and stabilizing plants. The natural settling of trash means that, in some places, the roads on top of the landfill have dropped 100 feet, Boehmke said.

The canyon landfill operated as a private dump starting in 1957, but it was purchased by the Sanitation Districts in 1970 and expanded.

From Nov.  1 until the middle of 2015, the Sanitation Districts will apply a final cover: a 5-foot thick layer of dirt. The top will be planted with shrubs and trees to match the sides along Workman Mill and Crossroads Parkway, Boehmke said.

Giant vacuum tubes will continue to remove methane gas and pipe it into the gas-to-energy plant operating on site since 1986. The landfill gas will produce enough electricity to power 70,000 homes continuously for another 20 years.

The landfill will be given to the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation, which is working on turning it into a passive park that will connect to existing hiking trails in the Puente Hills, said Sam Pedroza, Sanitation District spokesman.

One model is the South Coast Botanic Garden in Palos Verdes, once a county landfill, Boehmke said.

Yann was bittersweet in noting the end of landfill operations won’t restore the canyon. “It was a shame to lose this wonderful natural resource,” he said.

31 Oct 2013

from RTHK English News:

Landfill expansion plan ‘may be reduced’

The Environment Secretary Wong Kam-sing says the government may reduce the size of the planned expansion of the Tuen Mun landfill following opposition from local residents.

Mr Wong said the government was not planning to expand the Tuen Mun tip in one go, but in stages.

He said the administration understood nearby residents’ concerns.

A satirical depiction of the distance between Wong Kam-sing's residence and the landfill he pushes to expand. Wong says 'the administration understands' the concerns of nearby residents; none of the government officials reside within 20km of the landfill zone. (House News)

“We would be scrutinising this proposal very carefully, in particular, at the peripheral area of the extension we might be setting up some green belts so that for the overall size of the landfill extension that would also be correspondingly reduced,” he said.

Mr Wong said in the absence of incineration facilities the government has to make sure that there are adequate landfill sites.

But, he also said stressed the importance of minimising the impact of nuisance to nearby villagers.

6 Nov 2013

from Candy Chan of SCMP:

Government to press on with plans to expand two landfill sites

The government has proposed creating a stretch of green belt to act as a buffer between an extended landfill in Tuen Mun and residential areas, in a bid to appease locals who have objected to plans to expand the landfill.

Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing also announced that controversial plans to expand the landfill at Tseung Kwan O would be resubmitted to the Legislative Council early next year.

“My colleagues and I have received a variety of opinions from members of the district councils and representatives of rural committees and villagers. We listened to their views and discussed improvement proposals and future planning,” Wong told Legco.

The landfill at Tuen Mun is the largest of three such sites in Hong Kong, and is expected to reach capacity within six years.

Legco’s public works subcommittee voted on July 2 to approve a HK$35 million study into the feasibility of expanding the Tuen Mun site, which would cost an estimated HK$9 billion to construct.

The decision was met at the time with strong opposition from local residents. Tuen Mun district council argued the area already had a disproportionate share of “dirty” facilities such as power plants and fuel depots.

In July, the government shelved plans to expand the Tseung Kwan O landfill after strong local opposition, but Wong said those expansion plans would be resubmitted to lawmakers in the first quarter of next year.

A third expansion to the Ta Kwu Ling landfill is also planned.

In a bid to galvanise support for the Tuen Man expansion, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and Wong have taken over the chairmanship of a working group set up with the district council to examine local demands and proposals. They also visited Ha Pak Nai village in Yuen Long and Lung Kwu Tan village in Tuen Mun in August.

Lung Kwu Tan mayor Lau Wai-ping, 60, said he could not see how a green belt would help their situation. “Can trees or grass stop the odours from spreading towards us?” he asked.

He said about 1,000 residents of his village had made multiple complaints about the terrible smell from the landfill.

“The landfill is polluting the sea and producing foul odours, but the government has still not addressed our concerns properly,” he said. He hoped the government understood the impact of the landfill on villagers’ lives.

7 Oct 2013

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