By Brandi Underwood
Week after week, month after month, the trash collection crews scour the area, hitting countless businesses and residences one by one to transport their piles of trash away.
While it’s easy to employ an “out of sight, out of mind” attitude for the seemingly magical feat, have you ever wondered where your trash really goes?
At a special media event at the Raleigh County Solid Waste Authority (RCSWA) headquarters Friday, Executive Director James Allen explained just that, as well as leading a tour of the authority’s new landfill cell.
After your trash boards the collection truck, it heads to the Raleigh County landfill, located just off of Ragland Road. That’s where things really get complicated. Rather than just backing up on any spot and dumping their contents on the ground anywhere, trucks follow roads to the currently active “cell,” a specifically engineered cavity for trash disposal, Allen explained.
“These landfills are comprised of cells, and each cell is an entity in and of itself. We’re opening up cell 8 now,” RCSWA board member and Beckley attorney John Wooton said.
Although cell 7 is currently active, a new cell is set to begin receiving waste in spring 2014. The new cell, called cell 8, is the eighth cell in the landfill’s history. It covers 7.3 acres of land, is 100-feet deep and has capacity to hold 800,000 cubic yards of waste. At the rate of about 10,000 tons of trash coming in per month, it can hold around four years’ worth of trash.
Although cells essentially look like large craters dug out of the earth, they’re much more intricate than that, explained Allen.
Each cell is systematically placed to allow an efficient underground drainage system, which collects leachate, or the more affectionately dubbed “trash juice.”
To create this system, each cell is lined with 12 layers of material, ranging from packed clay, geosynthetic liner, heavy-duty composite material, cover stone, engineered fabric and more. Each layer plays a unique part in ultimately protecting our groundwater and overall environment, Allen explained.
Without the lining, contamination from the trash would seep into the groundwater, thereby polluting wells and water sources.
“Groundwater can’t be within 4 feet of the bottom of this system,” explained Charlie Gillian, director of disposal operations for Waste Management. “That’s what distinguishes the compliance landfills of today from the old landfills of the past.”
All of the leachate that seeps through the dense layer lining system is distributed into leachate lines, 6-inch underground piping that carries that wastewater to leachate storage tanks, where it is then pre-treated and released into the city’s sewage system for further treatment, Allen explained.
As garbage deteriorates, it emits methane gas, which is responsible for the smelly odor.
“We collect that methane and funnel it through a flare,” Allen explained. “It burns off the nonmethane organic compounds that cause the smell.”
Additionally, the authority covers the new layers of trash with 6 inches of soil each day, which further works to lessen the smell.
According to Allen, the new cell comes with a hefty price of approximately $2.9 million. However, without the in-house work performed by RCSWA employees, including packing the clay subgrade and stone and installing the leachate collection lines, the total cost would have jumped to $5 million.
Wooton explained that the landfill itself has the capacity to expand for the next couple hundred years over 700 acres of property.
“No landfill in West Virginia has the potential that this facility has for growth,” Gillian added.
According to Wooton, not even our grandchildren’s grandchildren will see the end of the current Raleigh County Solid Waste Authority landfill.
“You won’t find a more progressive landfill in the country,” Wooton said.
For more information on the RCSWA’s program and services, visit www.raleigh-swa.org.
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