It seems the seagull problem at the Central Landfill in Johnston has been rectified, at least temporarily, but the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation (RIRRC) continues to address the problem of odors emanating from the landfill and, given the fact that organic matter continues to be buried there, will probably be dealing with this issue well beyond the estimated 20-year remaining lifespan of the facility.
Meanwhile, the local environmental advocacy community and renewable energy business sector continue to fret over Rep. Jon Brien’s, D-Woonsocket, proposal to overturn Rhode Island’s ban on waste incineration and reclassifying any energy produced through the process as renewable.
The short remaining lifespan of the state landfill is of paramount concern to taxpayers. When the landfill is closed — in about 20 years, if we continue our current disposal habits — Rhode Island will most likely have to ship its waste out of state, either by land or by sea, and that added transportation cost will undoubtedly cause the cost of waste disposal to skyrocket overnight.
Waste-to-energy (WtE) incineration may seem like a solution to some, but the burning of anything — whether it be landfill gases or garbage — carries with it a host of environmental problems. And as we learned last year with the failure of the gas collection system at the landfill, even the strictest environmental controls — like all manmade things — can, and usually will, eventually fail.
It’s no secret that waste incineration, as an industry, is historically notorious for polluting our air and water. The clouds of noxious gases that emanate from improperly controlled, monitored and/or maintained incinerators have racked up many a violation of the federal Clean Air and Water acts.
WtE incinerators, however, don’t eliminate the need for landfills. Most of the ash that is produced by the industry is landfilled, but some states have issued beneficial use determinations for bottom ash, allowing it to be used for road building and, oddly enough, landfill cover.
Landfills carry their own set of ecological problems. Leachate from lined and unlined, closed and open landfills can contaminate ground and surface water. Most modern landfills have sophisticated leachate collection systems, but keep in mind that these systems can and do fail. Our own Central Landfill, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Enforcement & Compliance History Online database, has been out of compliance with the Clean Water Act for the past three years.
The real question for Rhode Island isn’t whether to burn or bury our waste, but how do we reduce our need for either of these options as we move forward? Producer responsibility, changing our approach from encouragement to enforcement of recycling laws in the business sector, composting food waste on a large scale and increasing our municipal recycling rates should be the focus.
Read the full article on ecoRI News.