In 2011, a study was conducted on the lifespan of the Ely Landfill, estimating the site will reach capacity by 2049, assuming current waste generation rates continue.  This raises several concerns that every citizen, business, and government entity that utilize the Ely Landfill should be aware of so they can begin to take steps to increase the landfill’s longevity.

First, what most people are unaware of is that closing a landfill is a major undertaking.  Once a landfill has reached capacity, efforts must be taken to properly prepare the landfill in a manner that minimizes both future environmental impacts and the need for continual maintenance of the landfill site.  This involves sloping and grading the site for erosion control, covering and compacting with clay, followed by top soil, and finally vegetation.  After all of this has been completed, there will still be decades of site maintenance and groundwater monitoring required.  The estimated cost for this is in excess of $3 million.  That is roughly $100,000 per year that needs to be set aside between now and 2049.  Remember, this is just for closing the current landfill.

Next, there is the issue of opening a new landfill, which involves many challenges.  First, the new landfill must be operational before the current landfill can be closed, ensuring there will be no loss of service to the community.  This means an additional amount of money needs to be associated with the over $3 million in closing costs.  Second, whenever a new landfill is opened, aside from the money, the biggest concern is where to locate it.  Will it be near your home?  Will it take over your favorite hunting or recreation spot?  This process can be painful for a community like ours, as it is impossible to make everyone happy. Undoubtedly, the land taken up by the new landfill will be felt as a severe loss to at least a few citizens.  In addition to finances and location, a new landfill brings a slew of environmental impacts including air pollution and groundwater contamination.

While this may seem like a grim outlook, there is an upside.  Due to efforts and best practices of your City landfill management, the life of the landfill has been extended another 8 years which has reduced the amount of money required to be set aside by $19,000 annually.  Every person and business in the City of Ely and White Pine County can do something to make the current landfill last longer. The EPA estimates that 75% of solid waste can be recycled; in 2014 Ely had a 2.6% recycling rate. One person creates about 4.5 lbs. of waste per day and about a ton of waste annually. If White Pine County recycled, we could reduce one year’s worth of solid waste from 25 tons to 6.5 tons. That kind of reduction in waste could keep our landfill open for generations and would alleviate the financial and environmental burdens it’s closure creates.

The City of Ely and White Pine County are currently in the process of ramping up their recycling capabilities.  While they are doing their part, there are steps you can take as well.  Look at your activities at home and at work to see what waste you generate.  Is there a way to minimize that waste?  If not, what items can be recycled?  All kinds of plastic bottles and containers, aluminum and tin cans, paper, cardboard, glass, and plastic film are recyclable. These are things we use and dispose of everyday.  It is up to each and every one of us to do what we can to reduce, reuse, and recycle, with the goal of prolonging the life of our landfill.  Let’s work together to keep White Pine County sustainable!