City plans recycling initiatives to maximize new landfill

GREEN PLANET | The landfill will be finished in 2019 costing $2.6 million and the city is encouraging people to recycle more often. Claire Boston | Multimedia Journalist

By Lizzie Thomas | Staff Writer

The City of Waco has purchased land for the new landfill after a long and controversial process, the city is taking measures to extend the life of the next one.

Charles “Chuck” Dowdell, Director of Waco’s public works, presented potential diversion initiatives, diverting waste materials away from the landfill — with recycling for example — to the city council on Oct. 2.

According to Anna Dunbar, program coordinator of recycling services, a landfill is not what people generally picture when they think about recycling and making the planet greener. However, there’s a lot that goes into making the landfill safe and efficient.

“What a lot of people think is that a landfill is a giant hole and you throw stuff in there,” Dunbar said. “That’s not the case at all. Each cell is engineered with a liner and soil and so on. So the working space is actually quite small. When you say a 237 acre landfill, people picture 237 acres of open trash. But it’s actually a really small space that’s being filled.”

The expected lifespan of the 12.6 acre cell (the last cell for the existing landfill), which holds the trash, is less than six years, according to Dowdell. The construction company, Hammett Excavation, Inc., is starting the new landfill late this year, and the cell is expected to be completed by mid-2019. The total cost of the landfill is expected to be about $2.6 million.

“Once you’re done filling, you’re done,” Dunbar said. “So if we can divert materials in an environmentally responsible and economic way, then the landfill will last longer. It will stretch out the life of the last cell if we are able to divert more.”

In 2009, the city dumped a little less than 250,000 tons, and the city is dumping more than 275,000 today, Dowdell said. The current diversion rate is eight percent, which Dowdell said is an important figure when we think about the lifespan of the landfill. According to Dowdell, the higher the diversion rate, the longer the life of the landfill.

“What would happen if we increase that number to say 20 percent? That might be a year’s worth of capacity,” Dowdell said.

About 40 percent of Waco’s population voluntarily participates in the recycling and yard trimming cart programs, but that means 60 percent don’t.

“Is there something that we could do more to encourage areas that are not used to seeing these kinds of recycling efforts? Obviously, the best time to do this is before it gets to our landfill,” Dowdell said.

These are the recycling initiatives Dowdell presented that would help increase the diversion rate of trash from the landfill:

1. Incentive to increase commercial cardboard diversion — The city currently has a fee to recycle cardboard from businesses. Incentivizing is possible because clean cardboard generates revenue, and cardboard takes a lot of space inside landfill, so reducing that would cut down costs which would help the city save money.

2. Reach out to local business organization — Organizations that the city works with, City Center Waco and the Waco Business League, have a better connection to the business community. Dowdell suggested asking partners what businesses are willing to do to recycle.

3. Additional recycling kiosks — There are already four “big bellies” downtown that have collected 1530 gal trash and 638 gal recycle in 6 months.

4. Residential carts — Each resident has access to one of each type of cart for free, but Dowdell asked, “What if we were to consider adding an additional green cart [for landscape waste]? Could we provide an opportunity for them to divert more?”

5. More education on recycling — People have a lot of opinions about what can be recycled. Dowdell would like to communicate that better to the city. He recommended a wrap on recycling bins, with information and graphics. If there is one load with non-recycling materials that means the whole truckload is rejected.

6. District-wide cleanups — Volunteers go out and collect large trash or things the elderly are not able to move or trash that has been abandoned. Dowdell suggested diverting some of that waste and increasing the frequency to two per year per district.

“We have some very enthusiastic volunteers, great organizations to work with and wouldn’t it be a great idea if we could increase these and maybe do some pre-sorting to divert some of the materials that might go to our landfills?” Dowdell said.

7. Getting the word out — “Education and outreach is really the key to the door. We need to have sustainable recycling programs within some of our campuses. We need an outreach team, which we have the framework for, but we need to expand it with some of the partners that we have,” Dowdell said.

Many of the plans have a tentative timeline of implementation by early 2019.

Dunbar said she has noticed a decline in interest in sustainability over the years.

“I will say that it’s a little harder to get the word out to people your age than it was when I first started doing this in the late ‘90s. I think that certain age groups don’t really watch the news, so I’m struggling a little with how to reach people,” Dunbar said.

Dunbar said at the Cobbs Recycling Center when she does tours with classes, people in their 20’s often tell her they don’t recycle. According to her, the best choice is not to create the waste in the first place. Dunbar said she was impressed by Baylor because of their initiatives like water bottle refill stations.

“Baylor is a real leader, but there’s always more that we can do,” Dunbar said. “Y’all are the next leaders of the United States, and I want the message [of sustainability] to move forward. People may think about the landfill ‘Oh, that’s not my deal,’ but it’s everyone’s landfill, not just a Waco landfill, so it really does concern us all.”