Of the 268 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) generated in 2017, 139 million tons was sent to landfill, according to a report from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Luckily with this incoming volume, gone are the days of the town dump. Today’s landfills are using greener methods to safely cover waste; generate energy from the underground methane gases; and give a second life after closure in the form of nature preserves, golf courses and even amphitheaters.
The number of landfills in the U.S. has dropped from 7,600 in the early 1980s to less than 2,000 today due to stricter land use regulations and a swell in recycling. Those that remain, however, are increasing in size.
"That size of machine is crucial to us. At a landfill this large, you need to move material quickly,” –David Strayer, assistant ops manager, Lycoming County Landfill
Lycoming County Resource Management Services operates a 500-acre site in north central Pennsylvania that includes a landfill, material recovery facility and recycling center. The landfill comprises 100 acres of the property. When opened in 1978, the landfill averaged 16,689 tons of MSW annually. Today, it receives 1,100 tons daily of MSW, including food scraps, product packaging, clothing, bottles, newspapers and other common household items that consumers do not recycle.
After waste, the second chief component of landfills is commonly dirt and shale, both of which are in abundance at the Lycoming County Landfill. For this reason, the landfill’s operators use shale and crushed rock from the site to build and maintain roadways to dumping areas and pad and cover the landfill’s underground cells.
A landfill cell is a complex creature. Each cell at the Lycoming County Landfill is approximately 10-square acres. The bottom of these cells are lined with geotextile matting and three feet of protective stone. Next, several layers of clay are compacted over the rock, and then a plastic cell liner is spread over the open cell before any waste is added. To further prevent groundwater contamination, PVC piping is latticed across the cell to collect leachate and funnel it to nearby lagoons. When filled, rock, soil and clay are used to cap and close the cells, then they are reseeded and returned to undisturbed grassland.
“It’s nice to be able to supply our own stone,” David Strayer, assistant operations manager at the Lycoming County Landfill, says. “That is not a resource most landfills have available. We have a very hard vein of blue shale at our pit, and since we are in close proximity to [populated] areas, we cannot blast. Instead, we use an excavator with a hammer or single shank ripper to break it into slabs that we can run through our crusher and screen to the right size. We have a McCloskey C50 jaw crusher as well as a Screen Machine Spyder 516T and a Finlay 833 screen plant that allow us to produce stone from a powder—size 3/8-inch-minus up to 8- or 6-inch-minus rock for roads.”
A Volvo L350F wheel loader is the landfill’s flagship machine to shuttle shale from the pit to the two on-site crushers or load its fleet of five Volvo articulated haulers. The 10-yard-cubed face loader, which is the largest in the Volvo lineup, is powered by a 16-liter, 532 horsepower Volvo engine.
According to Strayer, the L350F is one of the most important pieces of equipment the team employs since it is large enough to handle the requirements the site’s operators demand of it.
“That size of machine is crucial to us,” Strayer says. “At a landfill this large, you need to move material quickly and this size of loader paired with the Volvo 40-ton haul trucks allow us to do that with less wear and tear on the equipment, less waiting time to load and, ultimately, less stress on your operator.”
The right equipment is critical for maintaining the scope of the landfill’s operations, which is why the team at Lycoming County thoroughly vets each new purchase before making the investment.
When Lycoming County Resource Management Services needs to supplement its fleet, it turns to its local Volvo dealer based out of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Highway Equipment & Supply. Brian Hoffman, territory sales manager for Highway Equipment & Supply, has guided Lycoming County through multiple machine purchases using governmental buying contracts.
“We are obligated to follow certain buying regulations,” Jason Yorks, director at Lycoming County Resource Management Services, says. “If we go out to a straight bid, there’s a good chance that while we may save a few thousand dollars, in the long run, it is not cheaper if the equipment does not give you the value, service and life you expect. We are particular. We want a loader that will last a long time with good fuel efficiency. That is why we used the COSTARS cooperative purchasing program to buy the L350. Through COSTARS we can select from a list of equipment with pre-negotiated pricing through a state contracting system.”
COSTARS, while specific to Pennsylvania, is one of numerous state and federal buying contracts that are becoming an attractive alternate to the traditional bid process for government customers, Hoffman says.“Most municipalities our dealership works with are using COSTARS, HGACBuy and NJPA (National Joint Powers Alliance). It makes it much more efficient for equipment selection, and the taxpayers have the satisfaction of knowing their money is being used responsibly,” says Hoffman.
Tom Schanz, state and provincial government sales manager for Volvo, says municipal customers should consider the benefits of state buying contracts because of the purchasing power they allow.
“COSTARS is the commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s state contract or ‘cooperative purchasing’ program. The Department of General Services administers the contract with the intention of providing a channel for procurement that can be swift while also making it simple to seek out approved vendors with vetted best pricing,” Schanz says. “There are state programs similar to COSTARS across the U.S. The state takes the lead in vetting vendors as well as their pricing so that entities throughout the state, which could be anything from municipalities to educational institutions, have the purchasing power of much larger entities.”
According to Kathy Tedone, governmental buying specialist for Volvo Construction Equipment, the company’s partners are increasingly relying on these contracts to get the most value from their purchases.
“Volvo is seeing a significant and consistent increase in the trend by our municipal partners to purchase from cooperative contracts,” Tedone says. “These contracts offer the flexibility to purchase equipment that meets their specific needs at the most competitive pricing available while saving time and money.”
While cooperative contracts are one way for the Lycoming County Landfill to save money, the site’s operators work to conserve resources whenever possible. Lycoming County has an on-site gas-to-energy plant where methane gas is repurposed from the decomposing waste, an ample resource since food waste remains the largest type of unrecovered material sent to landfills. At the site, wells are sunk into the cells to siphon off gases to an on-site facility where the methane powers four generators that produce approximately 50 million kilowatt-hours per year, preventing the equivalent of 34,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually.
The Lycoming landfill has sufficient capacity to accept waste through at least 2030, and according to the site’s operators, it is working to ensure that its operations are as efficient and self-sustaining as possible in its remaining years. While the industry has come a long way since the days of the town dump, Yorks notes that preserving and maximizing landfill space will always be a priority.
“People are changing their habits; you no longer see burning barrels in backyards,” says Yorks. “Still, over 70 percent of the total volume of material we receive is MSW. While every facility across the Pennsylvania, and the United States, is seeing a drop in total waste produced, the reality is there will always be a need for a landfill.”