Keep hazardous waste out of landfill |

Keep hazardous waste out of landfill

No one wants a dangerous, toxic plot of land in his or her community. But, as with communities all over the world, we are currently creating the possibility of a future Superfund site every day by burying common materials in our local landfill.

Our modern waste stream is undeniably toxic. Both intuition and science tell us mixing everything from food waste, oil-soaked dirt, bleach, TVs, plastics, mercury thermometers and more in one big hole is a mistake.

Keeping the elements necessary for decomposition (water, air, sunlight) out of “dry tomb” landfills may help slow the mixing of these materials, but it can’t stop the process entirely.

Burying waste is not safe, particularly in the long term. Recent studies of sanitary landfills in Europe show concentric circles of increased cancer rates in areas near landfills.

Landfill operators and state regulators take steps to mitigate these health threats. Keeping liquids such as bleach and paint and other harmful materials out of the landfill through random load checks and posting signs is an example. But, is this tactic totally effective? Probably not.

Landfill liners are designed to keep the leachate – the potentially toxic liquid soup – out of the groundwater. But landfill liners are limited to protection on the order of decades, while materials last centuries or more.

It is all too possible that in 50 years there will be a Superfund site above Dillon Reservoir, where the Summit County Landfill sits.

Our community will always need a method of waste disposal. But the scale of that disposal, the nature of that waste and the incentives (or disincentives) that favor waste can be controlled.

Setting targets of 50 percent waste diversion, or more, is not unheard of. Communities on the West Coast and in Canada and Europe have achieved 75 percent waste diversion already.

Even if we recycled everything we possibly could, waste would still pose threats. Waste, and specifically toxic waste, is a symptom of poor product design. When communities ban mercury thermometers, for example, manufacturers and retailers find alternatives.

Changing policy so it costs more to waste than it does to recover resources is another step. Why should it cost the same to throw away one bag of trash a week as it does 10 bags? Burying 85-90 percent of our waste in Summit County is not unavoidable.

For information, call the Summit Recycling Project at (970) 668-5703. And, don’t miss the annual Household Hazardous Waste Collection Day, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at the High Country Fire Training Facility in the County Commons.

Carly Wier is the executive director for Summit Recycling Project.

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