The waste industry as a whole is governed by strict regulations, but perhaps no other area of the business is as fraught with regulatory red tape as the process of landfill permitting and expansion.

Rumpke Waste & Recycling, Colerain Township, Ohio, is no stranger to such challenges. Founded in the 1930s, the company currently owns and operates 14 landfills. In 2019 alone, the company fought for and received approval for a 85-acre expansion of its Noble Road Landfill in Shiloh, Ohio, and for a 240-acre expansion of its Hughes Road Landfill in Colerain Township.

Though these experiences, Amanda Pratt, director of corporate communications at Rumpke, says the company has learned a number of valuable lessons regarding how to best overcome some of the hurdles inherent with the process.

Opening the lines of communication

Landfills are often an unwelcomed neighbor in the communities they reside in. Pratt says that Rumpke tries to curb some of the inevitable not in my back yard (NIMBY) pushback from residents during the permitting process by engaging stakeholders early in the process.

She says the company’s stance of having an open-door policy with its landfills has helped educate the community on the company’s operations. Moreover, she says that taking proactive steps to engage residents and regulators is the best way to educate and alleviate concerns about what an expansion might entail.

“With 14 landfills, over the years, we have learned that transparency with regulators and target audiences, including officials and neighbors around the site, is key,” Pratt says. “We keep the lines of communication open, offer tours, host open houses and send newsletters. We encourage these target audiences to see our operations firsthand, remain in the know and ask any questions [they might have]. We strive to communicate all the time, not just when there’s a public hearing or an issue.

“We also communicate openly with regulators. We are proactive versus reactive, and compliance is always our No. 1 priority. Getting to expand a site is very challenging, but if your site isn’t compliant, it’s nearly impossible.”

Beyond creating an ongoing dialogue with stakeholders, Pratt says Rumpke’s focus on constructing and managing landfills to negate potential issues before they arise helps make the permitting process easier and less contentious.

When considering an expansion, Pratt says Rumpke conducts a careful and exhaustive examination of the property, geology and topography of a site. During this preapproval process, air space calculations, construction costs and timing of the expansion are all factors the company takes into consideration. Because minimizing the landfill’s footprint is of top of mind for the company, Pratt says, “we consider how we can strategically and efficiently expand with as little impact as possible on the areas outside our property lines [when determining how we can further develop these sites].”

Putting the work in

Engagement with regulatory and community stakeholders can help ease the permitting process, but without the proper landfill operation strategies in place, landfill owners put themselves behind the eight ball before the process can even get off the ground.

“One of Rumpke’s core values is to treat others the way that they wish to be treated,” Pratt says. “This is the basis of our business operations, including our stance on landfill management. Each Rumpke landfill manager and engineer must aspire to operate a site that is invisible at the property line. This is not always easy or even possible, but we are constantly researching and implementing the best technology available to reduce landfill nuisances.”

Pratt says that the company employs a number of tactics to minimize odor, pest and traffic issues within the company’s landfill sites. To clean the company’s vehicles and the roads these vehicles travel over on-site, Rumpke uses wheel washes, truck washes, street cleaners and street flushers. To keep wind-blown trash at a minimum, Rumpke employs both litter fencing and litter crews to prevent waste from escaping the site. Additionally, working faces of the landfill are kept small and covered when not in use to limit potential disturbances. The company also deploys and monitors landfill gas to energy systems at many of its sites to reduce gas odors at the source. Finally, birds and vectors are controlled with scare tactics and on-site assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

To mitigate traffic issues inside the company’s landfills, and to ensure congestion doesn’t spill out into the neighboring community, Pratt says the company works to streamline the flow of vehicles in and out of its dump sites.

“The last thing we want is for our operations to affect traffic outside our property,” she says. “We also want our trucks as well as third party disposal customers to be able to get in and out of the landfills with ease. Therefore, at all our sites, we have created scale operations and lanes to ensure efficient traffic flow. We work with counties, townships and states to make certain the public roadways can accommodate traffic without interruption as well.”

Pratt says that while handling incoming waste presents a variety of challenges, sequestering odor is perhaps the biggest issue the company has to worry about when it comes to community relations. To address this, Rumpke has devised a multistep approach.

“Trash smells, in most instances, long before we even pick it up at the curb, so we keep the working face manageable and covered when not in use,” Pratt says. “From the technology side, we have worked with chemists to create all-natural odor neutralizers made from plant and vegetable extracts and water. The odor-neutralizing solutions are specialized according to the odors we are trying to combat. For example, one mixture works best for trash odors, another minimizes gas odors and a third works to reduce compost odors. The biggest challenge we face is commercial loads that arrive with extra odors. We unload and try to bury them quickly. We also battle traditional issues like weather patterns which encourage odors to travel greater distances.”

Going the extra mile

No landfill operation, regardless of how well-run it might be, is likely to stay out of the crosshairs from disgruntled members of the community in perpetuity. That’s why when issues or concerns do arise, Rumpke is quick to act. Additionally, Pratt says that citizens are naturally wary about landfills in their communities—especially ones that are cloaked in secrecy. The company offers tours, hosts open houses, sends regular newsletter updates, visits homes, conducts presentations and creates dedicated webpages to keep stakeholders informed of the goings-on at its landfills and the status of its expansion plans.

“People don’t think much about their trash and what happens after it leaves the curb, if we don’t share the facts through communications, that’s when misinformation spreads and even fear occurs,” Pratt says. “Seeing is believing, we want people to see and understand the environmental safeguards we put in place as well as the processes we use. If they have questions, we want to provide the answers and shape the narrative.”

Pratt concluded, “At the end of the day, landfill management, expansion and permitting is about balancing the needs of a community, the business and the environment to progress in a positive direction.”

The author is the editor of Waste Today magazine and can be contacted at aredling@gie.net.