Starting this summer, Texas’ trash will have a new resting place. Republic Services, one of the three main waste management companies in the U.S., has just opened a new, state-of-the-art landfill on the southern end of the state in the Rio Grande Valley. The new La Gloria facility touts all of the most current technology, including clay lining, leachate processing and groundwater monitoring, but a Republic Services press release stresses another interesting fact about the new technological marvel: The company projects that the landfill will have a lifespan of more than 100 years. That means that someday, your children’s children’s children will be throwing out plastic bottles and food wrappers that could end up in La Gloria alongside your own (ancient) household waste.
trash pile landfill
Are more remote, 100-year-capacity landfills on the horizon?
These giant landfills are the current face of the American waste management system. In fact, the number of landfills in the U.S. has dropped drastically in the last 25 years — from 7,683 in 1986 to just 1,908 in 2009. This might sound like a good thing, but it does not mean that we are producing less trash; it just means we are building our landfills, like this new one in La Gloria, to hold more garbage. When you imagine that huge, 100-year-old landfill, it is hard to believe that the U.S. has a trash problem. If we can build a landfill that will hold a century’s worth of plastic bags, moldy food and junk mail, then why are we all worried about recycling in the first place?  But, while it might be tempting to let the news of Texas’ new landfill lift a weight off your shoulders — why bother with the hassle of recycling when it is so easy to get rid of trash? — it is important to keep in mind that these giant landfills are far from the perfect solution to our waste issue. In addition to the obvious environmental problems that plague all landfills (including contaminated groundwater, greenhouse gas emissions and wind-blown debris), these super-sized landfills create a new problem of their own: there is a steep environmental cost to transporting all that garbage, particularly in densely populated areas where the closest landfill may be hundreds of miles away. For example, states like New York and Connecticut ship their trash as far away as Ohio and West Virginia. Because of these long distances, waste management companies rely on a whole system of greenhouse gas-releasing trucks, trains and ships to transport every candy wrapper and pizza box tossed in the trashcan. Building bigger and better might seem like the solution to our trash problem, but no matter how deep we dig or what kind of technology we use, the fact remains that all the trash we produce still has to go somewhere. Right now, for better or worse, that somewhere is landfills, which means it is still important to think before you send that magazine or plastic bottle to the trashcan instead of the recycle bin. Until we start actually reducing the amount of trash we produce, the problems caused by our super-sized landfills will stay with us.