What the heck do we do with it?
The US is the Global Leader in Trash Production.
At 4.9 pounds of trash per person, per day, the U.S. is the most wasteful country on the planet. Of the 292.4 million tons of refuse Americans generated in 2018, half was buried in landfills while another 32% was recycled or composted, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The rest was burned (the preferred term being “combusted”) to generate electricity.
Over the past three decades, the rate of U.S. recycling and composting has more than doubled. During that same period, however, the number of available landfills shrunk by about 74%.
Recycling may have doubled, but that’s from a very low level.
Garbage exports went to zero thanks to Trump’s trade war with China.
Since China stopped importing U.S. recyclables in 2017, cities have been scrambling to find new markets for plastics and other materials that would typically be repurposed, said Mike Ewall, a Philadelphia-based environmental activist and executive director of the Energy Justice Network.
Environmentalists says don’t burn it and China will no longer take it.
Meanwhile, the number of landfills are shrinking. Many of the ones in existence are very poorly managed.
Even double-lining is questionable. Single lining of landfills is a disaster in waiting.
Exacerbating the concerns of local residents isn’t just what’s going into landfills, but what’s coming out. According to Nichols, garbage imported for disposal contributes to leachate, a liquid that forms when rain water filters through garbage. The result is a toxic soup that can include mercury, arsenic and lead.
Maine doesn’t test leachate for PFAS levels at commercial or state-owned landfills like Juniper Ridge, Nichols said, leaving the Penobscot tribe in the dark about the level of toxicity of the leachate being discharged into the river. The Maine DEP didn’t reply to requests for comment.
Landfills typically apply liners, or barriers made of plastic or clay, to prevent toxin from leaking out. Most states require a two-liner system, but Maine only requires one, said Peter Blair, an attorney with environmental nonprofit Conservation Law Foundation. “All landfills eventually have leachate seep out once liners start to disintegrate,” he said. “It’s not a matter of if it will leak, but rather when.”
Fully Compliant With Loose Standards
In a statement, Casella Waste Systems said the Juniper Ridge Landfill is “fully compliant” with Maine environmental regulations.
Casella collects a “tipping fee” from ReEnergy for taking its waste. Fees for construction and demolition debris vary, but range from $33 to $95 per ton, according to the state’s environmental agency.