Members of the public works and planning committee of the city and the borough of Juneau spoke about the garbage Monday afternoon.
Committee members heard from state regulators and a representative from Waste Management, the private company that owns and operates the Capitol Disposal landfill in the Lemon Creek area.
The meeting was part of the committee’s ongoing work to address concerns about the long-term viability of the Juneau landfill and odors in the area.
Jim Denson, environmental protection officer for the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia, said the Juneau landfill receives about 100 tonnes of waste every day.
He said that at this rate, the landfill has a lifespan of more than 20 years, based on the “current volume of airspace”.
“We can’t give you a specific timeline,” Denson said, adding that the waste degrades and shrinks in volume, freeing up space.
That timeline seemed fair to Zach Gianotti, an environmental specialist at the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.
He told the committee he estimates the landfill will last another 17 to 26 years, with a possible closure date between 2037 and 2046.
Denson said if the city reduced the volume of solid waste sent to landfill, the site could last longer. He said that as a community, Juneau does a great job on recycling and the city can expect Waste Management to serve as a partner in efforts to reduce the waste stream.
Go zero waste
Over the next few months, the CBJ Assembly Plenary Committee will be asked to consider a zero waste plan as a long-term goal for the city.
“Zero waste is the term used to describe an approach to waste management that minimizes waste generation and maximizes resource recovery. Although zero waste is the goal, it is generally recognized that waste will not be completely eliminated but could instead be reduced by (over) 90%, ”reads a note on the subject to be shared with the ‘CBJ Assembly.
“You can count on us to help you,” said Denson, acknowledging that reducing waste could affect the company’s business model. However, he said the company always wants to “do the right thing”.
Denson said Waste Management is committed to getting the most out of the materials they collect. But, he warned that it is expensive to divert materials for other uses.
In addition to considering a zero waste plan, the assembly will consider an ordinance to appropriate $ 50,000 for CBJ to partner with the private sector for a pilot composting program to create additional compost supply and increase local composting capacity.
Denson said Waste Management knows how to run composting facilities and can make compost. However, he said that for the idea to make sense on a large scale, compost must be used. He said a challenge Juneau might face is finding a destination for the food scraps that have been converted into compost.
“I don’t see miles and miles of agricultural fields,” he said.
Assembly member Carole Triem asked Denson about the idea of incinerating Juneau’s waste.
Denson also said that waste incinerators are generally prohibitively expensive, especially for a relatively small volume of waste, like that generated by Juneau.
He added that incinerators are expensive due to the pollution control devices required to operate the system.
Denson noted that incinerators can be used to generate electricity or steam, both of which can be valuable.
Denson said operating a landfill in a humid environment like Juneau presents special challenges, including odor control.
“All the rain means the smell is starting right away,” Denson said. “It creates a lot of gas quickly.”
He said the company is committed to addressing odor issues.
“Odors are not acceptable at Waste Management,” he said.
Denson explained that equipment failures, including an on-site air compressor, pumps and a torch thermocouple, malfunctioned last winter, leading to odor issues.
Denson said those issues have been addressed and further improvements, such as new collectors that will be installed once COVID-19-related travel restrictions ease, are on the horizon.
To better control odors, Denson said the company will reduce the size of the work surface and improve daily coverage efforts.
Denton said the company is also planning other improvements, such as building a litter fence and stepping up efforts to keep birds, including eagles away, from the area.
“The main thing for bird control is to pack food with good coverage and minimize the size of the working face,” he said, noting that the working areas will be covered at night.
Denson said the company is working on a public drop-off area where citizens can drive and throw trash in a trash can as another way to limit the exposed area.
Concerns about the dump have swirled around the assembly in recent election cycles.
As chair of the Public Works and Facilities Committee, Michelle Bonnet Hale has chaired several recent town halls that outline options for the city’s waste, including Monday’s meeting.
Kelly Fishler, who hopes to topple Hale in District 2, has said managing the landfill is a crucial campaign issue.
“The reality is that no one wants to talk about the landfill. But we have to deal with it, ”Fishler said in a recent interview with The Empire.
Fishler suggested that the solutions might lie in new technologies which should be explored as soon as possible.
• Contact reporter Dana Zigmund at [email protected] or 907-308-4891.