When people think of landfills, one of the things that always rises to the top of their minds is location.
Nobody wants to live near one. They don’t want to think about them, let alone look at them. And they certainly don’t want to smell them.
But as a necessity, landfills offer economic benefits, particularly for those who live in a town that has one.
“I think a lot of people overlook the benefits of having a landfill in their township or municipality,” said Chris Jaquet of T&M Associates, an engineering firm with an office in Bethlehem.
Jaquet leads the firm’s national solid-waste services business and has a background in landfill permitting, design, construction and quality assurance.
He recently spoke to Lehigh Valley Business about some of the overlooked benefits of landfills.
“Every landfill has a lot of people working there every day,” Jaquet said.
These skilled workers include everyone from accountants to licensed mechanics and people who manage millions of dollars in a budget.
Though the financial structure varies from town to town, every municipality with a landfill gets a host fee from the landfill operator. As an example, if the fee were $1.50 per ton, that money would go to the local community and could be as much as $390,000 per year on top of the tax revenue, Jaquet said. What’s more, the host county and the state Department of Environmental Protection also get a chunk of money from the landfill company.
“It’s very common for landfills to be looking at $2 million to $3 million in fees that they pay to the state, county and municipality,” he said.
“That’s a huge economic benefit,” Jaquet said. “If you are not in a community that has a landfill, those host fees go elsewhere. They definitely compensate the communities for being there.”
Landfills have to go somewhere, and consumers do not seem willing to throw away less, he said.
Furthermore, landfills also are capitalizing on new technology that helps them monitor and capture the methane gas in landfill wells so that energy can be reused.
The past five to seven years, there’s been a big increase in using methane as a resource.
Stopping the waste of an energy source is obviously a good thing, and it’s something landfills do that gets overlooked.
Many landfills are reusing methane in different ways, such as using the gas to heat boilers in nearby plants or as fuel to power engines.
Even landfills that are closed could find new, beneficial uses. Since landfills are on steep, sloped hills, those sites that are closed can be reused as space to build solar arrays to create solar power, something T&M Associates has done, Jaquet noted.
Other engineers have experimented with building mini-turbines to make wind power to try to reclaim those acres.
Though we often think of landfills as simply places to dump waste, if we dig beneath the surface, there are lots of ways landfills generate dollars and even energy savings.