‘Trash Mountain’ a Modern Landfill Rising over Southwest Huntsville
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Ever notice the rising landmass at the southwest end of Leeman Ferry Road that can be seen for miles around and was once the site of a rock quarry?

It’s officially known as a Modern Landfill and it contains non-hazardous refuse. They’re known colloquially as “trash mountains.’’ There’s even a recreation area in Virginia Beach, Va., called Mount Trashmore that was built on top of two landfills in 1974.

But while the Huntsville Solid Waste Disposal Authority (SWDA) has used modern technology in operating the landfill since 1988, the idea of a “trash mountain’’ is an idea that traces back to ancient Rome. For 250 years, carefully piled used jars created Monte Testaccio, which means “Mountain of Jars.’’

This was no dumpsite, and neither is Huntsville Modern Landfill.

“Our facilities are engineered facilities that are highly regulated by both the ADEM and the United States Environmental Protection Agency,’’ said John “Doc’’ Holladay, executive director of the SWDA. “The Authority has invested and will continue to invest tens of millions of dollars to design, build, operate, close and conduct post-closure care for a minimum of 30 years to ensure these facilities will be protective of human health and the environment in this community.

“The landfill is a vital public service provided by the Authority, in combination with the Waste-to-Energy facility, for the waste produced by the citizens, businesses, industries and institutions of the City of Huntsville, City of Madison and Madison County. The landfill is highly regulated by the ADEM through state-of-the-art technical standards to ensure that it is designed, built, operated, and closed in a manner to protect the citizens and the environment of this community.’’

No long-term plans have been decided on for the landfill, which is not close to full and has years of life remaining. A section of the site, however, is already being used by hobbyists.

“The exact end uses have not been decided at this time,’’ Holladay said. “The life of this landfill is projected to be greater than 30 years so as we get closer to that time, the Authority will determine what would be the most suitable long-term end use of this facility for the citizens of this community.

“Currently, a closed-out portion of the landfill is being utilized by the Rocket City Radio Controllers as an airfield for remote-controlled airplanes and helicopters.’’

The SWDA manages two landfills, neither of which accepts hazardous material:

Municipal solid waste (MSW) landfills are designed to accept mainly residential (kitchen waste, bathroom trash cans, etc.), commercial (apartment complexes, universities, and restaurants, etc.) and non-hazardous institutional waste. These types of landfills require plastic liners, leachate collection systems and methane gas collection systems. Methane gas collection systems are required once a landfill reaches a certain tonnage and generates a certain level of regulated landfill gas emissions.

Construction and demolition (C&D) waste landfills have different engineering and environmental standards than the MSW landfills. Construction and Demolition landfills not only accept construction and demolition waste but also inert waste such as old furniture, mattresses, trees/branches and yard waste. The slope that is visible from John Hunt Park is the C&D portion of the landfill.’’

The landfill will continue to grow, but the mounds created by the refuse do decompose.

“Both landfills are projected to last for another 30-plus years,’’ Holladay said. “As you are aware, the Authority has been actively engaged in adopting and implementing strategies that reduce the volume of waste that is disposed of in landfills for quite some time. In fact, two of those initiatives are over 30 years old, and a third initiative will celebrate its 25th anniversary next year.

“The waste-to-energy plant not only recovers the energy embedded in waste to produce steam for Redstone Arsenal, but it also reduces the volume of waste by 90 percent which reduces the amount of waste that has to be disposed of in the MSW Landfill. After combustion, the ash is transported to the MSW cell for disposal. However, prior to placing the ash in the landfill, the ferrous and non-ferrous metals are removed and recycled.’’

The Authority further seeks to reduce waste volumes being disposed of in the landfill by providing services that can be found at www.swdahsv.org.

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