This is a busy time of year for the Southeastern Chester County Refuse Authority, what with the inordinate amount of holiday trash and Christmas trees looking to become compost.
But, there is never a slow day at the landfill. Every working day sees a persistent flow of vehicles -- not just trash trucks, but cars and trucks of every description -- entering the gates to dump their loads at the landfill.
Seccra has operated the landfill between Routes 926 and 41 in London Grove Township since 1986 and now serves the trash disposal and recycling needs of 24 municipalities, thus serving 100,000 people.
Before it opened there, Anson B. Nixon, then head of Seccra, operated a landfill on what is now the park property in Kennett Square that bears his name today. Ball fields are now being built on the site. Administrative Supervisor Scott Mengel said no environmental impact was detected at that site and no environmental impact has been observed at its current site near Chatham.
"We are the country club of trash. We only let our own in," said Mengle, explaining that no trash from other areas is accepted.
Over the years Seccra has bought adjoining properties to use as both expansive buffers to protect its neighbors and 37 acres it hopes to use for future expansion of the landfill. Of the 300 acres Seccra owns, only 49 acres are actual landfill at this time.
Mengel said currently Seccra is building the final landfill cell in its permit area, which should satisfy its customers' trash disposal needs only until 2009 when it is expected to reach capacity.
As with each of its other landfill cells, after the new hole was dug it was lined with six inches of sub-base soil, then 24 inches of impermeable compacted clay. Right now it is being lined with one continuous piece of plastic sheeting 80 times as thick as a garbage bag. On top of the plastic will be 18 inches of dirt to protect the liner. Above that a system to collect and recirculate leachate, or garbage juice is installed. That system acts much the same way as a sand mound in a septic system. Mengel said it reduces environmental liability, ensuring that the trash juice does not get into the ground water, and produces methane gas quicker.
To protect the lower layers, the first layer of trash to go in a landfill is specially selected fluffy house trash, not sharp or jagged material. Then in goes the regular loads.
On an average working day 450 tons of trash are dumped in the Seccra landfill which adds up to approximately 120,000 tons a year. Each vehicle, whether private or municipal, is weighed by the weigh master and checked for radiation going in and then weighed again going out and charged accordingly. All day long as the trash arrives, heavy machines push it evenly around the cell while others drive over and over it to compress it.
Mengel said although they have never had to go digging in the landfill for anything dastardly, often people come in a panic wanting to search for money or other important items mistakenly discarded that day. He said if they contact their trash company and arrive at the landfill before the truck and ready to get dirty, chances are good they could find what they lost.
Each day's trash is covered with dirt. Any wind blown trash is caught in the cell's perimeter fencing and picked up each day. "The trash business is not glamorous work," Mengel said, as if to dispel any misconceptions.
A dump is the last thing Seccra wants its property to look like. But, this time of year the seagulls and turkey buzzards give its purpose away. Gulls winter at the landfill and presumably return to the beaches in the warm months. Turkey buzzards, on the other hand, hang around all year and are known in landfill jargon as "trash eagles."
Seccra has "adopted" the stretches of roads surrounding it and keeps all trash picked up. But, Mengel maintained, all the roadside trash is "thrown, not blown."
Tire washers wash the muddy tires of each vehicle that leaves the landfill area and a street cleaner keeps busy on Route 926 sweeping any residual mud off the road. "We're just trying to be a good neighbor," he said.
Under a grassy hillside on the property is a million tons of trash filling its first cells. They were covered with dirt, layer upon layer, and now have been returned to the landscape. It is Seccra's goal for people to say they would have never known what lay beneath the hill.
Trash disposal is a heavily regulated industry with continuous monitoring of groundwater, surface water and emissions.
The methane gas collected from the landfill is burned in a flare. But, by summer, Mengel said, Seccra plans to convert the methane to energy, providing electricity without the use of fossil fuels. "We could power 200 homes just on what would have been wasted otherwise, stinking up the air."
There is no denying that trash stinks, he acknowledged. But, Seccra is proud that no one has complained about odor in many years.
Yet, according to Mengel, London Grove Township is reluctant to grant the permits necessary for expansion of the landfill. "We are fighting for our life, but people are afraid of what they don't understand. We are the solution, not the problem. If the community knows what we do, I really think they'll support us. The trash is not going to go away, if we go away. If we're not here, trash will find its way to be everywhere," Mengel said.
For every ton of trash it collects, Seccra, a non-profit agency, pays the township a dollar, amounting to approximately $120,000 per year. The E. Kneale Dockstader Foundation, established by the Seccra board of directors, also donates the same amount to provide grants, scholarships and programs to promote environmental education in its service area.
Waste reduction is beneficial to everyone, Mengel said. To that end Seccra provides recycling of plastic, glass, aluminum, metal food containers and paper, as well as yard waste, motor oil, tires and appliances. Once a year it holds a document shredding event and an electronics collection.
For more information, visit the Web site www.Seccra.org or call 610-869-2452.