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Denton ends landfill mining program before it begins

Denton ends landfill mining program before it begins

Trash is sorted at ECO-W.E.R.C.S. Resource Recovery Park, the city's landfill. The Denton City Council decided to end the city's landfill mining program before it even began. Paige Bruneman

Denton ends landfill mining program before it begins
October 04
22:55 2017

The Denton City Council voted to end the landfill mining program on Tuesday, Sept. 19, which was in place to remove recyclables from the city landfill. They will sell the materials.

Landfill mining is the process of digging up solid waste for valuable materials in landfills used before household recycling programs were put into place. By removing this old waste, recyclable materials can be discovered and potentially sold, and the land space can be used for new solid waste.

For Denton, mining in the city landfill could not begin before addressing financial and operational concerns. Other factors the council considered included risks such as equipment failure and lack of manpower for the project.

According to Ethan Cox, Denton’s new general manager of solid waste, the program would cost taxpayers $1.4 million annually.

“At best, this is a 15 to 20-year project we would be taking on,” Cox said. “[By ending the program], we can cut about $2 million off our expenditures this year and immediately recognize $500,000 in savings.”

An investment of $4.56 million was initially approved by the city council and $3.51 million was already spent before the program stopped for further investigation.

During Tuesday’s work session, Cox gave a short briefing over the program and the problems that have risen before the mining could begin.

“With this project there are some things we know, but there is also a lot of unknown,” Cox said.

The city was first told the program would net around $16 million over 10 years. This includes the recyclable materials and recovered space in the landfill.

When the program was initially approved, neither the city council nor Denton’s Public Utilities Board had seen the detailed financial analysis.

“In doing research on this, we really can’t count on material revenue making a financial difference,” Cox said.

Previously, the cost of recyclable materials and value of recoverable space were overestimated. This led the Solid Waste Department to expect a loss of $14 million on the project if continued.

Along with the financial problems, operational challenges arose as well. Though a small amount of methane is released from the area, how to capture the gas when it does release came into question according to a memo sent to the city council.

Methane is a greenhouse gas that ranks second next to carbon dioxide. According to the United States Environmental Protection Program this colorless, odorless, compostable gas accounted for 10 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by human activity in 2015.

The program was one of two permitted landfill mining operations in Texas, with the other being located in Houston as a redevelopment program. Since Denton’s landfill has waste from before many recyclable efforts were in place, the potential for finding recyclable materials were high.

Investigating the landfill composition began in 2014, digging 50 feet deep for every 10 feet across the landfill, which is about 30 acres. The investigation determined high levels of recyclables. An unusual amount of dirt made the area extremely dry and producing low amounts of methane.

The mining would have been in the part of the landfill that filled from 1985 to the end of 2000. Vance Kemler, the former general manager of Denton’s Solid Waste, said the area was estimated to gain 60 percent more space after removing recyclables and usable dirt.

Matthew Udenenwu, team leader in Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s municipal solid waste permits section, stated even with the predetermined and classified buried materials, unexpected problems can arise with proceeding with the process.

Council member Sara Bagheri noted the materials found in the mining would have to equal $10 million to meet original projections.

According to Cox, the city is working to expand the landfill, having already bought land that would extend the life of the site up to 70 years. Currently, without any mining being down the landfill has enough space to bury trash until 2030.

“We’ve already started diverting resources,” Cox said. “We’re not landlocked by any means. There’s easier ways to divert waste than digging it up.”

Featured Image: Trash is sorted at ECO-W.E.R.C.S. Resource Recovery Park, the city’s landfill. The Denton City Council decided to end the city’s landfill mining program before it began. Paige Bruneman

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