The future of waste: landfills reaching capacity

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

The landfill at Rapp Road, at current input rates, will reach its maximum capacity and need to close in January 2023, say Albany city officials.

ALBANY COUNTY — As the two landfills in the county begin to fill up, municipalities are starting to think — fast — about the future. One resolution passed unanimously in the legislature suggests that the issue should be handled on a regional, or at least county-wide, level.

It’s time, says first-term Legislator Frank Mauriello (R-Colonie), to update Albany County’s 2011 feasibility study on recycling and solid-waste management. The study was conducted six years ago for the county by Barton and Loguidice, but its final recommendation — that a regional solid-waste authority be created — was never adopted.

In May, together with Sean Ward — a Democrat from the 16th District and the legislature’s chairman — and Frank Commisso, a Democrat from the 11th District and the majority leader, Mauriello introduced Resolution 210, which asks the county to update that study, called the Albany County Regional Solid Waste Authority Feasibility Study.

The resolution, which passed unanimously in the legislature and now awaits County Executive Daniel McCoy’s signature, says that new technologies have been developed since 2011.

McCoy, who was chairman of the legislature before he was elected county executive in 2012, added that he doesn’t see any reason not to sign Resolution 210, although he is still looking into it.

Asked how the county looked into the feasibility of a regional authority after the initial study was done, McCoy’s spokeswoman, Mary Rozak, wrote in an email, “I can’t speak to the actions taken after the completion of the study, as we hadn’t taken office yet.”

McCoy said that when he first got into office, he looked at the study, and that he has since been “trying to see what we can do.”

“It’s a study that has to be done on a Capital District basis, it can’t just be Albany County,” said McCoy. “It has to be multiple counties involved, and then you have to agree to the terms.”


The Enterprise — Michael Koff
A scene at the Rapp Road landfill, one of the two large landfills in the immediate area.


The original study was done on a regional scale. But, Rozak said, “the regional cooperation never materialized.”

Asked why municipalities would be more likely now than they were six years ago to cooperate in a regional consortium, Mauriello pointed to party politics.

“We’re the ones that initiated the study, we’re the ones who are going to make sure it’s completed and who are going to make sure the recommendations are implemented,” Mauriello said, referring to himself and his Republican colleagues.

A regional authority could only be created in partnership with New York State and the nearby counties said McCoy, partly because of the prohibitive costs of setting it up. “If you build a facility that size,” he said, “first, you’ve got to make sure you’ve got enough trash coming in, and then you’ve got to pay for it.”


The Enterprise — Elizabeth Floyd Mair
Members of Girl Scout Troop 1419 of Guilderland tour the plant of UltrePET recycling center on Fuller Road in Albany. UltrePET receives 1,000-pound bales of plastic PET bottles, breaks up the bales, separates them by color, cleans and dries them, cuts them into chips, and then forms them into precisely sized tiny pellets. The pellets are then tested, packaged, and sold to companies that can reuse them, including soda-pop manufacturers that turn them back into plastic bottles. Here, UltrePET’s Penny Wilhide shows the girls stacks of bales. More photos from the tour.


The original study found that the area generates enough waste — more than 2 million tons per year — to support the development of facilities for a comprehensive, coordinated system.

As of 2011, several municipalities in New York had developed successful solid-waste management authorities, according to the report. Dutchess, Islip, Oneida-Herkimer, Rockland, Ulster, and Western Finger Lakes had developed materials recovery facilities to process recyclable materials for marketing and Onondaga and Oneida-Herkimer had achieved two of the best recycling rates in the state.

McCoy said that the most successful regional authorities that he is aware of are all in Europe — they include very large recycling centers and generally incinerate waste. They are the closest to what he said is his goal, of “seeing zero go back in the ground.”

Those facilities, he said, “burn cleaner air than we breathe.”

The county has been looking into the feasibility of such an authority here, McCoy said. “But it costs a lot of money. Who’s going to pay for it? Who’s going to manage it?” he asked.

The 2011 study looked at Albany County and the surrounding counties of Columbia, Greene, Montgomery, Renssealaer, Saratoga, Schenectady, Schoharie, and Washington.

McCoy said, “Obviously, if we go to something like that, I don’t know if you remember when we had the problems with cancers down in the South End of Albany, but we don’t want to get into that again. We want to make sure we don’t make those mistakes as we go forward. Everything has to be done in the best way for the environment.”

He was referring to the state-owned ANSWERS (Albany New York Solid Waste Energy Recovery System) incinerator, where waste was burned, resulting in an ash cloud over Arbor Hill and the surrounding area that brought with it an increased incidence of respiratory problems. The incinerator was shut down in 1994.

The authority could run on a fee schedule based on the amount of waste coming from the various partner counties, Rozak suggested, noting that it’s a significant issue. Currently, she said, the county “plays no role” in waste management, which is instead handled by municipalities through public or private providers.

The original study cost $55,000, which was paid for largely through a grant from the New York State Department of State’s Local Government Efficiency Program — the county chipped in 10 percent of the cost.

Rozak was unable to estimate the cost of updating the study before putting out a request for proposals.

The question of where a regional authority would be located was never explored, she said.

The plan needs to be brought up to date, Mauriello says, since the two largest landfills in the county — at Rapp Road in Guilderland and in Colonie — continue to “fill up quickly.” There have also been new technologies developed since 2011 for recycling, composting, and reducing waste streams that could have unknown positive environmental and economic impact, Mauriello said, and they should be incorporated into the plan.

The town of Colonie is currently applying to the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation for an expansion of the Colonie landfill. This landfill is located on Route 9, about four miles north of the Latham traffic circle, and the total site is about 200 acres, said Matt McGarry, public works engineer with the town of Colonie; that estimated size includes open cells, closed cells, and buffer areas. McGarry said that Area 6 is currently the only active landfilling site — others are capped and closed — and it is about 24 acres in size.

The town oversees the landfill and is the applicant to the DEC, although the day-to-day operations have been contracted out since 2011, McGarry said. The operator is Capital Region Landfills, a subsidiary of Waste Connections, according to the website for the landfill.

The expansion, if granted as requested, would be mostly over the existing landfill, said McGarry. Most of the expansion would be not outward, but upward. If approved as submitted, it would provide about 20 years of disposal capacity.

“We’re not looking to increase the amount dumped on a daily, monthly, or annual basis. We’re not looking to change that at all. This will just give us a longer life,” McGarry said.

If the expansion were not granted, the first thing the town would do would be to take steps to reduce the amount of waste going into the landfill, McGarry said. Without the expansion, and without any steps to reduce waste, he estimates that the landfill would need to cease operations in about a year to 18 months.

“Other counties are facing the same issues we are, and if we can regionalize this and help each other, it’s probably also going to be more economical,” Mauriello said.

The city of Albany — which deposits its garbage in the Rapp Road landfill — started on May 24 a series of informational meetings with city residents. At these meetings, city officials and consultants from the engineering firm Barton and Loguidice describe the current status of waste management in the city and future costs that will follow the landfill’s closing. The next meeting is on Monday, June 12, at Albany Public Library’s main branch, from 6 to 7:30 p.m.

Each property in Albany produces an average of 1.5 tons of garbage per year, according to documents the city uses in its presentations to residents.

There’s no option for expanding the Rapp Road landfill, according to the city’s PowerPoint presentation. When it closes, there will be no more revenues from the landfill, and it will cost an estimated $3 million annually for solid waste disposal elsewhere if the landfill is turned into a transfer station. With a transfer station, trash would be trucked to larger landfills, probably in western New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

The city has issued a request for proposals of “other options.” The public comment period ends June 20 and, after that, the city will incorporate those comments into an RFP document, and advertise, said Joseph Giebelhaus, superintendent of sanitation services with the City of Albany’s Department of General Services.

The question is how to stabilize or decrease the cost per property, per year, of the transfer station, of $324, according to the city’s presentation. It suggests two ways to achieve this: increasing route collection efficiency and incentivizing recycling.

The average Albany resident throws away 826 pounds of waste per year, and recycles 105 pounds, for a diversion rate of 11 percent, the document says, suggesting that 65 percent should be the city’s goal.

According to the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the national average as of March 2016 is 4.40 pounds of waste generated per person per day, with 1.51 pounds of that recycled, for a diversion rate of 34 percent.

The city’s presentation outlines in detail how a “pay as you throw,” or PAYT, system works, with residents paying per bag or container of trash — priced according to size — or a hybrid system.

The city is evaluating that system, Giebelhaus said, explaining, “It’s one of the tools in the toolbox to increase recycling, and decrease waste.”

Other cities PAYT systems, in which the more residents recycle, the less they pay for disposal. Under this system, recycling pickup could be free, which encourages recycling and reduces waste.

Under PAYT systems, Binghamton residents have a diversion rate of 27 percent and Utica residents of 22 percent, according to Albany’s presentation.

In Colonie, McGarry said, there is a “de facto ‘pay as you throw’ system,” because the city does not have municipal collection, although the two villages and the city of Cohoes do. In the city of Colonie, you pay more, he said, if you have a larger trash can.

Giebelhaus said that the Rapp Road landfill is “on a downward trend,” not because people are recycling more or putting less trash into landfills, but because of increased tipping fees at Rapp Road. Space is at a premium, and so the landfill charges more in tipping fees, he said. It makes less in revenues: $10 million last year in tipping fees, and $8 million projected for this year.

The Rapp Road landfill is permitted to accept 1,050 tons per day, but is down to about 550 a day, Giebelhaus said. In 2016, the landfill took in a total of 211,260 tons, down from 242,735 in 2015. So far, as of the end of May, the total for 2017 has been 58,540, he said.

“Given current inputs,” he said. “We’re looking at Jan. 1, 2023” as the date that the landfill at Rapp Road will be fully built out.

“The size of the base and the overall height are dictated to us in our permit,” Giebelhaus explained. If it continues at the current rate, it will have reached its maximum extension and height by 2023.

The town of Bethlehem has a recycling coordinator, Dan Lilkas-Rain, who explained a new pilot program in composting that Bethlehem started this spring. The town has started to cooperate with a private company, Food Scraps 360, which collects food scraps curbside — the town already collects yard waste curbside.

That company brings the food scraps to the town’s facility, and the town mixes the yard waste with food scraps, in a three-to-one ratio. The town is testing the use of an aerated static pile, or ASP, which Lilkas-Rain says is much faster than traditional composting. With regular composting, it can take nine months or more to compost yard waste. In the ASP method, in which air is forced through the pile and no turning is required, it can take just two months: one month of active composting, with forced air, and another month without air, for curing.

McCoy said that he expected to “reach out to the State of New York eventually, to check their temperature of what they think we should do as an approach.” He added, “We do have to look at the way we get rid of trash, and work good with the environment, and we need to work together.”

However, McCoy said, a regional authority is “unfortunately not going to happen overnight.”

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