Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Talkin' Trash in Loudoun

The Loudoun County Landfill offers tours each week for scout troops and other groups; and recently my Daisy Girl Scout troop took advantage of this opportunity.

The landfill opened in 1971 and should be able to continue to serve the community for another 60 years. We learned that the Loudoun County Landfill takes in only about a third of the trash from within the county, and the rest of the county's trash is taken to other landfills in Fairfax and throughout Northern Virginia.

Our guide, Tony Hayes, taught us a lot about recycling. Loudoun County is only recycling about 30% of our solid waste. Nationally, the goal is 25%, and Europe is recycling less than 20% of their trash; Sweden, on the other hand, recycles close to 40% of their trash. We can do better.

We learned how plastic bottles are turned into a cotton like material that can be made into clothing. Tony told us that the cost of recycling aluminum cans is cheaper for manufacturers than using raw materials; so the cans we leave there today will be back on the shelves in just a few months. We saw a ruler made from recycled yellow pages, with a bit of recycled plastic thrown in for good measure. We also saw that mulch (made from yard waste) is available free year round.

If you take your own trash to the dump, you probably knew that you pay according to the weight; but the good news is that you can bring in recyclables free of charge, and you can remove them from your truck before you're vehicle is weighed. Not all materials are recyclable at this location. They do take newspapers and magazines, cardboard, bottles and cans, among other things. Special items can be recycled, but you may need to search a little harder for the right collection spot.

On the day of our visit, the landfill had received over 500,000 pounds of trash; which is apparently a lot. My Daisies would tell you that the landfill stinks, although I will admit that the smell is not nearly as bad as I expected, nor as bad as I remember from when I was kid.

We learned about the storm water management efforts at the Landfill, which are taken very seriously here since our storm water eventually makes it to the Chesapeake, an area we're working hard to preserve. At the landfill, they place a plastic liner and an absorbent liner at the bottom of a big hole, and these liners act kind of like a diaper, soaking in the "garbage juice" so it does not leak into the ground. Trash is added, throughout the day, large machines drive over the trash and crush it. At the end of the day, it is covered with 6 inches of dirt. This is repeated several times over, until the area reaches capacity. Then a "raincoat" is placed over the mountain of dirt covered trash. All these efforts result in less contamination of the soil, and therefore support the efforts to protect the Chesapeake Bay.

Sadly, as we sat in the county van, my girls could each look into the non-recycled trash pile and see many items that could have been easily recycled. Again, we can do better.

We learned that the sagging economy does have a benefit. Tony "guesstimated" that collections were down about 20% compared to years where we had a more robust economy; and that demand for recycled materials is down, too. But, recycling remains more lucrative than "dumping" the trash in a regular landfill; and it is much better for our environment.

Our tour concluded with each girl promising to do her part, and to convince one more person to start recycling. This is my effort to convince you. Will you join me in my efforts to protect our earth? Start by abiding by my daughter's new motto: "Recycle a little every day!" Every little bit helps.

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Tell us if you see us in the news!
Update: Just a few weeks after our visit, I know my family has an increased awareness and a renewed focus on recylcing. This week our overall trash output was reduced by about 25-30%; AND half of what we did produce was destined for a recycling center. Now, I am actively working with my office to see if we can get our office building recycling. Come on, you can do it, too.

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