Florida's Collier County, like most other local governments, has traditionally allocated solid waste to landfills. However, the heavily regulated landfill process has been expensive and has always posed substantial environmental threat.
The Landfill Reclamation Project, pioneered by County officials, seeks to recover and reuse waste materials and gain benefit from the landfill site itself. It employs novel techniques including degradation of organic elements of trash and then reclamation of cover materials and ferrous metals. A technically sound program that greatly reduces environmental risk, it has resulted in lower costs, greater environmental protection, and a better method of solid waste management.
The program consists of a loading machine to perform the landfill mining and mechanized equipment (normally used in quarry operations) to size-up and separate the materials. The current area being mined is an active landfill site that has stabilized, i.e. the waste materials have decomposed to start producing methane. The excavated material is fed to a filter screen to remove large items. The remainder then passes over a vibrating screen that extracts the finer items. Light ferrous components are then separated through the use of a drum magnet on a conveyor belt. These parts are then stockpiled to be sold to scrap processors for recycling, a process that generates supplemental revenue for the county.
Compared to the standard means of handling solid waste, the Landfill Reclamation Project does not involve burning (which can be costly) or manual handling of trash (which can be tedious and unhygienic for handlers). It reverses the landfill concept by introducing an innovative approach to waste treatment through a technology-driven, low-cost process. In doing so, it achieves a high degree of environmental protection through the reclamation of landfilled waste and open space.
Collier County operates its current landfill reclamation project in an area that serves 120,000 (88 percent of its) total residents. The actual reclamation operation produced approximately 50,000 tons of usable material at less than half the cost of new material purchased off-site. The County saved $100,000 in the first year of operation (FY 1988-89). Clearly, the project demonstrates that older, environmentally hazardous landfill cells can be put to good economic use.
In terms of replication, this project is easily adaptable to any community looking to find a viable solution to its solid waste management problems. Already, the Florida Department of Environmental Regulation has issued a permit to the National Energy Corporation to mine a 48-acre waste deposit. New York State; the City of Thompson, Connecticut; the City of Alexandria, Louisiana; and the Delaware Solid Waste Authority are either conducting evaluative studies or starting landfill reclamation projects in their respective jurisdictions. In the field of waste management, the Landfill Reclamation Project can be characterized as an imaginative and resourceful approach to tackling the troublesome problem of landfill contamination.