Take Our Trash, Please

Orange County has been looking for a new landfill for many years. Our current space, just north of Chapel Hill city limits on Eubanks Road, is filling up. You won't be at all surprised to learn that none of our neighbors in this vast, friendly county have agreed to take a new landfill near their homes or their favorite recreational areas. There have been expansions near the current landfill, which to me seems to violate the County's 25-year-old agreement not to dump any more on the landfill neighbors (mostly black) on Rogers Road.

According to the News & Observer, we're now teaming up with other Triangle communities to seek some sucker, er I mean, some other helpful county to take our garbage and some money.

Will anyone go for this? Even so, it makes my skin crawl to think of selling our garbage to other communities who surely would rather get the money for their important government services, through nice property taxes or clean industry. Maybe they'd like a UNC satellite campus! We've got one to spare...



Actually, there's a relatively new revenue problem (which would make a great news story) with the landfill. Ever since the ordinance requiring construction waste to be sorted, vast quantities of Orange County material have been going to landfills in neighboring counties, most notably Wake. Since the recycling costs were financed by construction waste tipping fees, this is a big problem.

This illustrates a big flaw in the original thinking, since this was a totally predicatable outcome. These kinds of ordinances must be employed cooperatively with neighboring jurisdictions to ensure that stuff doesn't get dumped over the border.


Thanks for the very thoughtful post Matt. The current landfill was never expected to last this long. Recycling, reduction, and reuse have been an accepted way of life in this community for over 15 years and one of the measures of the success of Public Works diligent education program is the extended life of the landfill. PW is funded to run those education programs and support a non-profitable recycling program because of the no-palatable-solution to the landfill problem. If we ship our waste away, the education funding and extra services funding might possibly be diverted to other areas of critical need. So in addition to the environmentally racist approach of sending our trash to poor communities, the unintended consequences would likely include an increase in waste production. BTW, North Carolina pulled out of the regional low level radioactive waste compact because we didn't want to take the radioactive waste of the other states. Don't you think it's a bit ironic for our own communities to be shipping their waste to other communities--whether it's radioactive or not?



I will have to add "environmental racist" to my bio. That is a new one to me.

I will place it after the part about being a money grubbing capitalist rip off pig at http://www.hippyhillnews.com/about.html


I have always been a proponent of siting the waste as close as possible to the rich and powerful. That way it receives the attention it deserves. The nuclear waste dump should be next to the legislative building in Raleigh, landfill next to Meadowmont, etc.

What about having two county landfills? Neither would have to be as big or intrusive. Ultimately though, this comes back to end use. When the cost of disposing of the non-recyclable waste is added to the purchase price of products, i.e., the costs of OWASA water includes the treatment of same, now that would be truly letting the "marketplace" work.

There is the possibility of adding disposal fees into the price of new computers, as computers are highly toxic. It is against the law to dump computers in a landfill, so they must be processed by a reclamation facility to remove the leaded glass, hazardous gases, and trace minerals and metals that are pretty nasty pollutants. The cost of reclaiming materials is not too high but it's not free. The "market" is made to bear the cost of the eventual disposal (hopefully recycling) of the machines by charging the disposal fee as part of the purchase price of new machines. This strategy hasn't been widely tried out, it is opposed by an array of manufacturers and retailers for understandable reasons...namely the fear that sales will decrease as price goes up.

In Orange County, old computers and related equipment are collected and sent to a company in Mayodan NC for reclamation of materials. Usable machines are donated to an area non-profit. There is no advance disposal fee that I know of.

It would be interesting to put a surcharge on products with extensive packaging to cover the cost of disposing of the packaging. That might be one of the quickest ways to cut down on the use of styrofoam, low-grade plastic, and other trash materials to package goods. However, it would run into the same problems that computer disposal fees run into.

Tom's suggestion for two (smaller & thus easier to site) landfills is another very good ideathat was proposed twelve years ago in the thick of the landfill battles and was also ignored in the county leadership's single-minded obsession with one huge landfill site. There was a lot of suspicion that the county was just making a land grab and wanted to get more land than was needed for a landfill just to have it for an investment or some future use.

The Greene Tract was purchased (when was that? the 70's?) to be the site of the next landfill, but it was decided durng the landfill site search that that was not the best use for that land (too close to Chapel Hill?).

When I was on the county Construction and Demolition Waste Committee I did some research about on-site disposal of construction waste, discovered it could be done safely & was allowed in several states. I made a proposal on this at which point Barry Jacobs, the chair, appeared to have a bout of extreme deafness. Each time I brought it up again, this same syndrome occurred. It would have greatly cut down the amount of waste from Meadowmont (and other developments) because the developer's real estate would be at stake when waste was being buried. Of course, the county was worried that the funding for recycling would suffer and recycling success can make good news while no-one really needed to know about the parade of C&D trucks over the scales.


Mark, the Greene Tract is considered to be the headwaters for three watersheds. Blair Pollock would be the one to ask about the GT history, or Bill Strom.

Also, there are FAA flight regulations about locating a landfill in the flight path of an airport. Something to do with buzzards and crows. The GT is in the flight path of Horace-Williams, so until the airport is gone it's unlikely to be used for that reason as well.

Last though is the easement that Duke gave to NASA over a piece of land just north of the old landfill, an easement whose federal rules prohibit or limit certain uses on adjacent properties, such as solid waste disposal. Until the easement is no longer in effect this would theoretically neutralize landfill expansion.

It should be noted that even though household solid waste is limited, construction and demolition debris is not. There is a new c&d landfill on the north side of Eubanks Road.

The letter from the FAA about birds that was produced late in the process (1991) was vague and somewhat flimsy.

Actually, in regard to the watersheds, the Greene tract is relatively high & dry. It's right about at the dge of the Cape Fear & Neuse basin watersheds.


Having two landfills instead of one in town would also help the affordable housing efforts, because housing is cheap near landfills!

What effect will the proposed addition of a recycling fee have on the need for a new landfill? I've spent quite a bit of time in Indianapolis over the past couple of months where they don't have city-wide recycling (they incinerate all waste). The volume of trash in my father's house is considerably more as a result of not recycling. Won't this proposed fee lower the motivation of households to recycle--thus reducing the already minimal life expectancy of our landfill?

please oh please will this state institute the bottle tax?

Well, the garbage has to go somewhere--and we HAVE posted a 40% reduction in solid waste this year--at least that's what it says at the recycling center over by U Mall. I realize we are wasteful evil people all the same (tounge SLIGHTLY palnted in cheek)... but what else can we do? I compost--send decent used clothing to the PTA thrift shop--use cloth rags instead of paper towels (for most things) and recycle everything else that I can.

I'd rather have a landfill than an asphalt plant--or a rock quarry.

Anyone else have any good ideas?


This is an old & complex issue. I'm one of the many friendly county residents who didn't want Chapel Hill's garbage dumped in my community. Back in 1991 when the landfill site search was going on, a bunch of us formed a group composed of representatioves from almost all of the 15 or so targeted communities and made one simple statement:

It is immoral to ask another community to receive the towns' garbage until everything possible has been done to reduce the waste stream.

It was our contention - and I believe absolutely correct - that a much, much smaller landfill was needed (if waste was aggressively reduced) and thus it would be much easier to site. The county leadership at that time took the preposterous position that we could not comment on the gargantuan sizes of the landfill sites (their size alone made the process painful because each large possible site affected so many people) and thus could not comment on real waste reduction. Of course we did, but they didn't listen. The process was doomed to failure and i consider the decision to ship our waste out of the county to be an abrogation of our responsibility and one of the worst decisions ever made in this county.

An interesting factoid: In 1991, the same solid waste people who are now running the show said we would need a new landfill by 1997 and that time was critical. Our group called for pausing the process to study how waste reduction could reduce the impact of a landfill, We calcualted that the current landfill woul last until at least 2003 and thus we had time to make a decision based on a holistic view.


I recall hearing about "Pay as you Throw" a few years ago. What became of that? Has that been used successfully anywhere to reduce the waste stream?

The need for a new landfill was known long before 1991. I worked on a taskforce in 1989 to write a waste reduction plan for the city. At that time we considered a number of options, including pay as you throw (reduceds waste but increases littering). I left the area right after the plan was submitted, so I don't know if any of the recommendations were implemented. It does seem like the recycling program is more robust than when I left, but I don't see many other changes. I agree with Marc that we should not expect others to take our trash. If we make it, we should live it. I love the way Virginia Beach turned their old landfill into a park (Lake Trashmore).


That waste reduction plan that Terri worked on was the best plan put forward at the time (and maybe still the best plan). Had we adopted that plan we wouldn't be in the mess we are now. If I recall correctly, Joyce Brown was instrumental in getting that plan figured out.

I once had occasion to observe per-bag charges being implemented in Switzerland. I don't think it would work here. It's labor-intensive to monitor bags for authorization (by sticker), and it is way too easy to dump trash around here, or to make unauthorized use of commercial dumpsters.

I've seen it at work in Mass. where residents just bought trash bags provided by the authority (conveniently available in local markets). The cost of dumping was made a part of the price of each bag.

How about a clear orange-tinted bag? It's not too labor intensive to notice if the trash is in the right bag. Additionally, commerical dumpsters can be locked to prevent unauthorized use. Business have an incentive to take measures to keep their dumpsters closed since they're paying to have them emptied.

More bothersome is the problem of dumping. Terri brought it up too. Anyone have ideas for improving enforcement of unauthorized dumping?

I think charging per bag is a bad idea. It gives people the incentive to dump in the woods, while providing even more government involvement/cost.

I normally agree with charging people usage based taxes, rather than flat ones. This case is different because of the potential of littering our envirenment with garbage.

If we have 40% reduction in Orange County, it seems like we are doing a great job without charging people at achieving the most important goal.

I think we should ship our garbage to the lowest qualified bidder. If it means our garbage goes to Mexico, so be it.



I tend to agree with Todd's most competitive bid solution. I can't imagine many local people like the idea of keeping it here (except to take ownership of our own mess) but some communities would see this as an opportunity. If some community does see it as an opportunity, and the trash isn't being dumped in the backyard of some politically powerless group, I don't think we have to feel guilty about relocating our garbage.

PS - While there is no polystyrene recycling in the area (to the best of my knowledge) some of the packaging stores are happy to take packing "peanuts" off your hands and reuse them.

Where is the motivation to continue reducing/recycling if we ship out the stuff we don't like and don't want to deal with? We are a very wasteful society and although I hate the thought of beautiful Orange Co being wasted on a landfill, I think shipping it elsewhere will have negative repercussions on our own waste production (increase) and on poor communities whose only resource is the land. While it's great to support poor rural economies, I'd prefer to find other strategies than to make them my dumping ground.


I don't follow your argument that the motivation to recycle/reduce would be undercut by shipping out our trash. What currently motivates people to recycle and reduce and (don't forget "reuse" and "refill")? I see a high level of recycling activity in this community (relative to other places I have lived) but believe that many of these good citizens are not fully apprised of landfill capacity. I believe that a lot of them would not change their behavior even if the "costs" of wastefulness were lowered. If you think that contributing to a landfill is a bad thing, you are going to feel uncomfortable whether the landfill has one year to go or 50.

Regarding the idea of a "lowest qualified bidder", I suppose it is a prerogative of wealthy communities to dump on non-wealthy communities so we the wealthy can get by with cheap trash disposal, and so our quality of life won't suffer by having to deal with our own crap. Toddtheblogger, do you understand how this apparently neutral cost analysis which you espouse (ship it to Mexico, if that is cheapest...) correlates directly with environmental racism? You are concerned that no one dump trash in the woods of Orange County, but do you have less concern with communities such as those found in Mexico where people are poor and will take trash for the cash, but whose environmental protections are lax or non-existant? in communities not unlike Eubanks Road/Rogers Road, excluded from receiving Chapel Hill services but having to take Chapel Hill and the county's trash and live with the smell, the rats, the vultures and raccoons, and the daily traffic of garbage trucks? They didn't have much choice in the matter in 1973, much like the Mexicans or the Virginians (see below)...

ON another note, the economics of the current orange county landfill are pretty benficial to the landfill authority, which is administered by the county. Tipping fees - money paid to dump things in the landfill - are lucrative enough to pay not only for landfill operations, but also for the recycling operations, which are not money makers. So the discussion of landfill filling up should include the fact that we now can literally just dump trash in a hole and have folks pay for it, and all we have to worry about (I say "all" advisedly) is burying it. This is cheap, but it will change soon.

When the current cells at the Eubanks Road facility top out (estimated to occur within a decade), we as a county will have to decide if we will find another site within the county ( unlikely considering the hostility all communities have toward landfills) or if we will ship it to receptive communities elsewhere. Durham sends their waste to a site in southern Virginia, and we might do this as well. I am told that Durham's trash goes to a rural black neighborhood...but they must want the trash, right? kind of like Eubanks Road's neighborhoods "wanted" the trash when Howard Lee convinced them to take it? But this will be expensive, we would have to pay for shipping as well as dumping, neither of which we have to pay for now. Therefore, recycling - which currently enjoys something of a free ride - would have to be rethought.

Some thought has gone into a MURF, a materials reclaimation facility (acronym?) which processes waste and turns it into usable materials. This is politically unpalatable because of fears of pollution and the continuation of using Eubanks Road as a destination for garbage. It also requires money and a couple of politicians willing to sacrifice their positions and even then it might not be able to pass.

However, the current operations might continue longer than thought. Recently I took a truckload of waste to the landfill which was sent not to the open cells on the south side of Eubanks, where the landfill is currently operating, but to the north side, where "construction and demolition" or c&d waste is sent. I did not have c & d waste, mind you. Still, the trash was piled high near the old landfill - one that was opened in 1973, before landfills were lined and scrutinized for hazardous waste. Not that they are using the old landfill, but it appears they are using the site for trash deposition. Can anyone shed some light on this?


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