The two public landfills responsible for handling all of Salt Lake Valley’s garbage are filling up fast. The Salt Lake Valley Landfill and the Trans-Jordan Landfill facilities, which benefit hundreds of thousands of Salt Lake Valley residents, collectively stand at the bottom of the national trend for recycling.
Neither of the landfills qualifies as ‘dumps’, but rather intelligently planned, highly efficient, and strikingly innovative waste management facilities. So efficient that not a cent of taxpayers’ money is spent on either of the two public landfills; both operate on their user fees alone, which for both sites, rank amongst the lowest 10 percent in the nation.
“We’re not hurting for money, we’re hurting for space,” Esther Davis said, Compliance Coordinator at the Trans-Jordan Landfill located in South Jordan. “When it’s cheap to throw things away, people don’t see the landfill being as valuable as it really is.”
Within the last 35 years the amount of waste each person in the Salt Lake Valley creates has nearly doubled from 2.7 to 4.6 pounds a day. This amount of disposal results in more than 1,300 tons of garbage that are buried in the Salt Lake Valley Landfill everyday. That’s not including the waste which is hauled off daily to the Trans-Jordan landfill, which serves the southern end of the Salt Lake Valley – where they dump 5.2 pounds of trash every day per resident.
Nationally, Americans recover, recycle or compost 32.5 percent of trash thrown out, but Salt Lake Valley residents recycle less than 15 percent of their trash. If only the “basics” were being recycled instead of thrown away, over 60 percent of Salt Lake’s waste would be recycled. That includes #1 and #2 plastics, aluminum cans, steel and tin cans, clean paper and cardboard.
The Salt Lake Valley Waste Management Facility cannot bury into the ground because it lies approximately eight-feet above the water table. Alternatively, the trash is piled into compact hills 100 feet high.
The Trans-Jordan Landfill functions differently with the use of cells that are enormous holes that take three years to dig out of the earth. The cells at Trans-Jordan Landfill were designed to hold 12 years worth of trash but the one currently being filled will be at capacity this coming summer and it’s only been in use since 2007. With cells filling up at a rate 300 percent faster than expected, the lifespan of the Trans-Jordan Landfill will end in about 17 years, forcing the southern end of the valley’s trash to be hauled up the extra distance up to the Salt Lake County Waste Management Facility, the county landfill.
“There are no more sites. Once the Trans-Jordan is at capacity, the trash will be sent to the county landfill until they fill up, and eventually we’ll have to take it out to the desert,” Davis said.
Since there are no more Salt Lake sites available for a landfill after the Salt Lake Valley Landfill is at capacity, in the future trash will have to be exported much longer distances at a much higher price and cost to the public. Expanding the lifespan of Salt Lake’s landfills can be achieved easily with increased public consciousness. Reducing the amount of trash individuals produce, reusing items that can be utilized again and recycling appropriate materials deemed garbage, remain the paramount points in public outreach education.