Efficiency and the Art of Solid Waste Removal: Livestock Road Landfill saves region $8.3 million
“We want to be a good neighbor, the best neighbor [we] can be,” Clarke Gibson, director of the Region 2000 Services Authority, said.
From where he sits in his Livestock Road office, just off the Rustburg section of Wards Road, Gibson is a stone’s throw from dozens of private residences. The challenge for Gibson, however, is that he runs a landfill—a neighbor that some see as less appealing to have. Unless, of course, that landfill is saving the area millions of dollars.
The regional landfill came about when local government officials met in 2005 to determine what kind of services would be best suited to be run as a single regional effort. This coalition determined that a multi-jurisdictional collaboration to dispose of solid waste would be one such operation.
The jurisdictions of Lynchburg, Bedford, Appomattox, Nelson County and Campbell County thus formed the Region 2000 Services Authority in 2008, and planned to collectively bring the Lynchburg landfill (located in Concord) to capacity, and to then use the Livestock Road Regional Landfill as the area’s primary facility for solid waste disposal. As a result of this collaboration, the shift to a regional landfill has generated more than $8.3 million in savings to date and has avoided cost.
The cost-effectiveness came as no surprise to Gibson, because the facilities required to run a landfill are myriad. A landfill is not a hole in the ground where people back their trucks up and dump trash, which is a stereotype he believes many people have.
Instead, he said, “[A landfill] is highly regulated. It’s all about protecting the human health environment. That’s the ultimate goal: providing a safe means for solid waste disposal.”
And those regulations mean a lot of necessary overhead. To process waste and to save on invaluable landfill real estate, for example, they have a trash compactor to compress the materials as much as possible. A trash compactor like the one at the regional landfill costs about $800,000, and whether it’s a regional landfill like the Livestock Road facility (which processes about 1,000 tons of waste per day) or a smaller landfill that serves one jurisdiction, a compactor is still necessary, Gibson said.
“And you still have to have people to run each one of those landfills, you still have to scale house operations. You still have to have all of the environmental monitoring set up. You still have to have all of those programs in place whether you’re receiving 100 tons per day or 1,000 tons per day.
“So it just makes so much more sense to operate one landfill instead of six or seven in the same area. This is why our recent report shows that we have saved each of these communities a lot of money,” he said.
Gibson said the authority has also eased financial pressures on the state level, since it is easier and less costly for the state to manage the environmental regulations, building permits and inspections it has to do for landfills when it only has to deal with one landfill in a particular region instead of individual locations for each city and county.
“And the environmental monitoring program at the landfill is extensive. For example, landfills produce methane gas. The entire perimeter of this landfill has gas monitoring probes that we test on a frequent basis to make sure that there is no gas escaping the site through the soil,” Gibson said.
The landfill also has leachate to manage: the odorous (and potentially lethal) liquid that comes from decomposing waste and rainwater being mixed together. In years past, leachate was allowed to seep into the soil, where it would contaminate the groundwater. Modern landfills, such as the Livestock Road facility, use membranes and a series of drains to safely direct the fluid into the sewer system. With multiple landfills in one region, Gibson said each one would have to construct the necessary systems to properly manage the leachate, which also means more locations where the potentially hazardous fluid has the ability to harm the environment.
But simply containing the waste isn’t enough for an engineer like Gibson. He considers what he does a “noble, if not glamorous, line of work,” that continues to evolve.
“One day,” he said, “landfills will be considered resources.”
He adds that a lot of research is being done on methane gas being used as an energy source, and said it’s already happening in other parts of the world. In the meantime, the authority seeks to continue to go beyond state landfill regulations. The Livestock Road landfill recycles 32 percent of the solid waste it receives—the state mandate is only 25.
And it’s all in an effort to be a good neighbor.