Monday, September 19, 2011

Economic downturn may help keep space open at landfills

By Jamey Dunn

Illinois landfills have an average of 23 years of capacity left if they continue to accept trash at current rates, which the state’s economic slump may be helping to keep down.

In 2010, 43 Illinois landfills took in about 14 million tons of waste, about 11 percent of which came from other states. According to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency’s landfill capacity report, 22 Illinois landfills accepted a total of more than 1.5 million tons of trash from other states including California, Iowa, Indiana, Kentucky and Wisconsin. The overall capacity of the state’s landfills, which is currently more than 303 million tons, decreased by 18.2 million tons or 5.4 percent in 2010. The measurements are based on waste before it is compacted for storage.

Landfills in  northwestern Illinois and the Chicago metropolitan area have the least amount of projected capacity. If landfills in that region continue accepting trash at their current rates, they will run out of room in 14 years. Of the seven regions the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency designates for solid waste management, five saw a shrinking capacity for trash in 2010 when compared with 2009 capacity levels.

Both the IEPA and those in the solid waste disposal industry say the state is in no immediate danger of running out of room for its trash. However, one industry expert said the recent dip in waste production could be an indicator of the state’s economic woes. “I think for the time being, we’re fine. The economy has not been booming, so we haven’t seen a big increase in waste production,” said David Hartke, president of the Illinois Counties Solid Waste Management Association. Hartke noted that the amount of waste going into landfills has dropped every year since 2006, and he said it is directly related to residents’ levels of consumption. Landfills saw a small increase —.5 percent — of the amount of trash they took in 2010.

Hartke, senior waste analyst for the Will County Land Use Department, said waste haulers in some northern areas of the state, where construction was booming in recent years, are now reporting up to 15 percent less trash as the building of homes and businesses has died off. “It is just interesting to see the amount of waste received as compared to our latest slump in the economy,” he said.

Overview of the state’s landfill capacity by region:

  • Region One is the Northwestern Region, which includes the counties of Boone, Bureau, Carroll, DeKalb, JoDaviess, LaSalle, Lee, Ogle, Putnam, Stephenson, Whiteside and Winnebago. Landfills in the region would be able to take in trash for another 14 years at current rates. 
  • Region Two is the Chicago Metropolitan Region, which includes the counties of Cook, DuPage, Grundy, Kane, Kankakee, Kendall, Lake, McHenry and Will. Landfills in the region would be able to take in trash for another 14 years at current rates. 
  • Region Three is the Peoria/Quad Cities Region, which includes the counties of Fulton, Hancock, Henderson, Henry, Knox, Marshall, McDonough, Mercer, Peoria, Rock Island, Stark, Tazewell, Warren and Woodford counties. Landfills in the region would be able to take in trash for another 56 years at current rates. 
  • Region Four is the East Central Illinois Region, which includes the counties of Champaign, Clark, Coles, Crawford, Cumberland, DeWitt, Douglas, Edgar, Effingham, Ford, Iroquois, Jasper, Livingston, Macon, McLean, Moultrie, Piatt, Shelby and Vermilion. Landfills in the region would be able to take in trash for another 26 years at current rates. 
  • Region Five is the West Central Illinois Region, which includes the counties of Adams, Brown, Calhoun, Cass, Christian, Greene, Jersey, Logan, Macoupin, Mason, Menard, Montgomery, Morgan, Pike, Sangamon, Schuyler and Scott. Landfills in the region would be able to take in trash for another 26 years at current rates. 
  • Region Six is the St. Louis Metropolitan East Region, which includes the counties of Bond, Clinton, Fayette, Madison, Marion, Monroe, Randolph, St. Clair, and Washington. Landfills in the region would be able to take in trash for another 18 years at current rates. 
  • Region Seven is the Southern Illinois Region, which includes the counties of Alexander, Clay, Edwards, Franklin, Gallatin, Hamilton, Hardin, Jackson, Jefferson, Johnson, Lawrence, Massac, Perry, Pope, Pulaski, Richland, Saline, Union, Wabash, Wayne, White and Williamson. Landfills in the region will be able to take in trash for another 47 years at current rates. 

Maggie Carson, a spokesperson for the IEPA, said that the trend in Illinois is toward larger landfills that have the potential to grow. “The bigger picture is that the larger [landfills], and typically those managed by the large waste management companies, continued to get bigger,” Carson said. “They saw they way things were going was that smaller landfills were unable to meet the environmental requirements. They have space to continue to develop for the foreseeable future.”

Hartke said of smaller landfills: “They can’t afford to continue their operations. They can’t afford the meet regulatory requirements.” He said some requirements are confusing and difficult to implement. He pointed to a new law that will bar many electronics, such as computers and televisions, from being placed in landfills as of 2012. “It’s definitely going to be difficult for waste haulers and landfills to pull those items out, compared to tires, which are banned. It’s a lot more obvious to see a tire or landscaping waste, [which is also banned.]” Hartke said an exemption for businesses makes the law even more difficult to enforce in practice. “When you see a [computer] out there, how do you know if it was in a business or a house?” he asked. Hartke said several waste management operations are working on drafting a standard that all facilities in the state can live by.

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