Monday, December 22, 2008


Unless we can reduce our waste stream to zero, landfills will likely continue to exist.  Although we may never completely eliminate our waste, there are numerous ways that we can reduce what we send to the landfill.  Unfortunately, like the source of our food, few give much thought to the repositories of our waste.

In today's Post and Courier, Tony Bartelme article "Dump would be more than just a landfill" describes efforts to locate "a 500-acre operation capable of taking 1.8 million tons of garbage a year. That's 40 times the garbage residents in Williamsburg County typically toss out. Put another way, it's enough trash to fill the North Charleston Coliseum seven times a year. If built, the landfill would rival the largest one in the state."  The extra capacity is required, because the residents of Williamsburg County will not be the only contributors to the landfill.  As Bartelme notes, "A sizeable chunk of the trash that went into the state's landfills, about 25 percent, came from out of state, mostly from North Carolina, New York and Massachusetts.
The state's largest landfill is in Lee County and is operated by Allied Waste Industries. Last year, it took in 1.5 million tons, 1 million tons from other states."

Although landfills are currently a requirement of our society, our state is being considered for large landfills because there is ample rural space within substantially poor counties.  The counties need funds to serve their residents and the landfill's distance from population centers minimizes scrutiny and possible objections from residents and watchdog groups.

Williamsburg County's motivation for siting a new landfill is based on the environmental issues at its current landfill.  However, other landfills in our area are looking to expand because their current site is reaching capacity.  Naturally, if a landfill cannot expand, a new landfill must be opened in another location.  There are a few simple steps that we all can take to help extend the life of our local landfill, which will save each of us money in the end.  Think back to elementary school or ask an elementary school student...reduce, reuse, recycle.
  1. Reduce - This time of year highlights our consumption with a flood of catalogs and a flurry of purchases.  Opt off the mailing list of catalogs from which you never intend to make a purchase.  Not only will you help save the shrinking boreal forest in Canada (whose trees made the paper for the catalog), but you'll save space in the local landfill.  Also, look at the packaging for the products you purchase throughout the year.  Let companies know that you don't appreciate the excess packaging, which wastes resources for its production and subsequently takes valuable space in the local landfill.
  2. Reuse - It may be trash to you, but it's almost guaranteed to be a treasure to someone else.  There are organizations such as The Freecycle Network that can help get your unwanted items to a new home.  If that is too much work, put your items by the street...the sun has yet to set on anything we have place out there.  If someone can find a use for an item, it keeps it out of the local landfill.  Fill an empty juice bottle with water from your tap instead of purchasing bottles of water filled from taps in New Jersey.  Americans add 30 million (that's 30,000,000) plastic water bottles to landfills every DAY!  Besides taking up space, fossil fuels were required to manufacture the bottle.  Finally, create a small compost pile and reuse your organic kitchen waste.  You can use the compost in your yard or garden or simple let a nearby tree tap into the pile of nutrients.
  3. Recycle - Recycling is not just for hippies and young children or for generating a warm, fuzzy feeling.  Recycling is about reducing environmental damage and saving money.  Fewer trees need to be cut, transported, and processed, if post-consumer paper products are being recycled.  Less ore needs to be mined, transported, and processed, if steel and aluminum are being recycled.  Creating products using recycled plastics can attained a reduction in fossil fuel consumption.  Not only is there an environmental and cost savings on the front end of recycling, there is a savings to you on the back end.  New landfills are more expensive to create and maintain than existing landfills.  According to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, 8.6 million tons of wastes were recycled within our state in fiscal year 2007, which is approximately 50% of the total waste generated.  That means our current landfills should be open 50% longer!  The dearth of bins by the curbs in the neighborhood on recycling day makes it clear that we can do much better than 50%.
Though our state is developing rapidly in many regions, we still have open spaces and natural areas.  As noted by the influx of out-of-state trash, other states do not share that luxury.  Before we get to that point, let us all work to extend the lives of our landfills...reduce, reuse, and recycle.

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