Waste Management Landfill Tour

This morning, I had the pleasure of touring the Simi Valley Landfill. Yep, I said “pleasure.” It was truly a fascinating experience. About three years ago, I brought several loads to the landfill to dump on a Saturday afternoon and was amazed by all the things to see. The brief experience prompted me to do a little casual research on the workings of landfills. I haven’t really been opposed to the expansion, unlike my favorite Simi Valley City Councilwoman, Barbra Williamson, so I was really hoping this tour would answer some questions about not only what goes on now, but what would be going on at the site should the proposed expansion be approved.

Before I get into my reaction, which admittedly is less than controversial or even interesting, for that matter, I do have to encourage you to take the Simi Valley Landfill tour soon. I didn’t know this, but they’ll take groups through the landfill, sharing and showing the operational aspects of the landfill, from the dumping of solid waste and the sorting and collecting of recyclable material, to the grooming of closed “cells” and collection of natural gas produced by buried waste. The operation as a whole is as impressive as I thought it would be and I highly recommend everyone take the tour BEFORE deciding your position on the expansion project.

The trip started with immediate disappointment when my tour guide, Scott Tignac, District Manager of the Simi Valley Landfill, told me that my video camera wouldn’t be able to join us on the tour since I hadn’t received prior approval. Scott was kind enough to provide me with contact details for the Community Relations Manager so that I can return in the future to take some shots of the operation. Clearly, however, questions about some of the more compelling political issues behind the expansion would go unanswered. The purpose of the tour was to better understand the operation aspects of the landfill and to get an idea of the geographical footprint of the proposed expansion.

The landfill is a heavily scrutinized and regulated operation, but they manage to run it very well. One of the most fascinating aspects of the operation involves bird’s-eye-view photos of the entire property allowing WMI to closely match the landscaping elements of covered portions of the landfill with surrounding, untouched land. The covered cells are groomed and seeded, maintained with reclaimed water for as long as needed until plant life is normally sustained. I was also fascinated by the gas wells throughout the property collecting the natural gas produced by the buried waste. The gas powers the on site offices, but is also funneled to “the grid” generating enough electricity to power several thousand homes.

One point of criticism I’ve heard in the past is that Waste Management uses green waste to spread over the trash that is buried. This turns out to be correct. The practice is completely legitimate, in fact. Solid waste traditionally is covered by dirt. However, 10,000 cubic feet of dirt will always be 10,000 cubic feet of dirt, where as 10,000 cubic feet of green waste can decompose. Not all green waste can be used to spread over solid waste and is recycled and used for various functions, such as compost for example. See correction notes below. *

The daily management of the waste that is processed in the landfill is very laborious. The people working the solid waste burial work 12 hour days sometimes because all waste must be 100% covered/buried by the end of the working day. They don’t go home until that goal is accomplished on a daily basis. Further, it was very surprising to see the the sorting of recyclable materials was a manual process involving quite a few hands.

We did stop to look at the land that Waste Management now owns and intends to use for the proposed expansion. It’s a significant piece of land, very large. If the expansion is approved, the GI Rubbish offices and trucks would be moved up the hill to the landfill, effectively limiting at least some of the existing Madera Road traffic. Plus, the landfill would continue to expand north of the city, rather than moving south towards the city to reach currently planned capacity. And considering the way the landfill is operated currently, I can’t imagine there being a negative impact on residents regarding sights and smells.

From what I was able to see on my tour, I cannot see there being a significantly negative impact on the city of Simi Valley by approving the landfill expansion. The landfill as it is currently has been in place and out of most peoples’ minds fr 35 years. My suspicion is that most people who are opposed to the landfill are opposed because (1) the natural emotional response to a project of this type is to consider our city as “the trash can for neighboring cities near and far” and because (2) it is unclear if or how the City of Simi Valley will benefit by the expansion.

I suspect I’ll be able to form a more solid opinion on the expansion once the complete Environmental Impact Report (EIR) is complete. Until then, I’m just not sold on the idea that it’s harmful to the city. I am sincerely hoping that someone will comment on this post with some reasons for me to see it the way Barbra Williamson sees it. Her mailer is below…

Williamson Anti Expansion Brochure

Williamson Anti Expansion Brochure

* CORRECTION: The State of California allows green waste to be used as an Alternate Daily Cover. In the past, approximately 10% was used in that manner. Currently none of it (0%) is used for daily cover. 99% of the green waste is recycled. The other 1% represents trash that sometimes gets put in the green container that is removed. The green waste is shipped throughout Southern and Central California as a soil amendment. Some of the material is sent to a composting facility where it is refined into products that you would find at a nursery (as I referenced in the text above). Some of the material is sent to the central valley as a fuel and some is used onsite at the Simi Landfill to “re-landscape” after soil cover has been placed.

Also, the company that manages Waste Management’s green waste is called Agromin and can be found at www.agromin.com.