Wake County, N.C. takes proactive approach to resolving solid waste problems

All landfills eventually reach their full capacity, leaving planners to figure out where else they can dump their waste. In Wake County, North Carolina, local officials do not expect to face this prospect any time soon, but they are planning ahead anyway.

According to an article in The News & Observer, the county relies on one major landfill, which opened in 2008. Though originally designed to last 25 years, more recent estimates suggest that it could operate for as long as 35.

That's because a number of factors have caused solid waste figures to fall. People in Wake County are recycling more, and the recession that began in 2008 caused a drop in trash generation. All told, the article noted that while the landfill saw 460,000 tons of trash in 2009, by 2013 that number was down to about 400,000.

This is certainly good news for the county, which is always looking for ways to control costs.

"We do believe it's reached the bottom," Wake County solid waste management director John Roberson told the news source. "We're projecting it to grow at about 1 percent a year, as population is (growing) about 3 percent a year."

However, while it seems that the area could commence business as usual for the next several decades, this does not appear to be happening. Residents of Wake County are well aware that they live in a rapidly growing area, and a number of factors could combine to drive demand for landfill space back upward again. As such, it is crucial that they seek out options for the future.

For example, the article mentions WakeUP, a local Wake County nonprofit group that is focused on planning for the region's future growth.

"As we know, with every growth issue, you have to start thinking about things ahead of time so you're thinking about where you're going to end up," WakeUp executive director Karen Rindge said. "Because there is a limit to the landfill, and it's going to continue to be an issue."

One of the problems facing the area is the fact that there is little, if any, room to create another landfill after the current one is filled. At that point, the alternative might be burning waste, which carries negative implications for air quality.

Until then, some are pushing for a "pay-as-you-throw" model of disposing waste. Under this system, area residents can only throw trash in special bags that they purchase before hand. The idea is to incentivize recycling by increasing the cost of rampant trash.

Wake County is far from the only area that faces an imminent or future waste disposal problem. Space is always limited, and municipalities are going to need to work with environmental consultants to develop increasingly creative solutions to ensure that there is always a place to dispose of trash.