As the city of Waco’s landfill nears its 2025 fill and closure date, city staff is looking to sustainability efforts to both divert waste from a future landfill site near Axtell and breathe new life into the current site once it closes.
During a Green Communities Conference tour of the landfill Tuesday morning, Jessie Vickers, environmental compliance coordinator at the Waco landfill, shared the landfill’s struggle to maintain capacity for the area’s growth, waste diversion tactics and the site’s opportunities for solar and gas power.
Waco’s landfill at 1624 Hannah Hill Road, which was built by the city of Woodway in the 1980s and bought by Waco in the 1990s, is expected to reach its fill point in early 2025, Vickers said. The site’s daily activity rivals landfills in Temple, Austin and Dallas, he said.
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The amount of trash entering the landfill has increased over the last 5 years from about 280,000 tons per year to 350,000 tons per year, Vickers said. Waco’s waste has grown with its population in recent years. Despite efforts to slow the accumulation of trash, as Texas continues to grow beyond 30 million residents “the simple fact is there will be an increase in waste,” he said.
Not only has municipal residential waste increased as the city has expanded and grown, but also an increase in commercial and industrial waste has been noticed since the pandemic.
“Since COVID we’ve seen an increase in industrial customers, daily franchise haulers and commercial guys … probably a 200% increase in what we’re seeing,” Vickers said.
Although a large proportion of the trash the landfill accepts is construction and demolition waste, which takes up more space and does not break down as easily as household waste, Vickers said the city tries its best to divert materials away from the landfill. He said the landfill staff often recommends customers visit Prestige Shredding and Recycling, Sunbright Companies and other organizations that can often take certain reusable and recyclable materials for free, reducing the amount of trash that reaches the landfill.
The landfill charges a $60 per ton tipping fee for all construction and demolition waste without concrete or $100 for waste with concrete. Vickers said the city works to recycle as much concrete as possible, especially as construction and demolition increases, donating it to landscaping and rock companies when possible.
The landfill has also seen an increase in the amount of trash per person as the use of takeout boxes, plastics and Styrofoam has increased, he said.
It is difficult to recycle all materials, as the city cannot ensure a material’s quality or what it is mixed with. For example, things like treated boards cannot be reused in mulch, Vickers said.
He said an issue he battles with recycling is the community’s viewpoint and education, as many people do not know of opportunities to reduce waste and turn to the landfill.
“If they don’t know, their only answer is to take it to the dump,” he said.
As Texas’ population continues to grow, Vickers said more landfills will likely pop up on green fields — land undisturbed by development — while municipalities find creative ways to use brownfields, or former landfill sites.
Waco’s new landfill, at a green field site near State Highway 31 and TK Parkway in Axtell, faced backlash from neighbors of the site, leading the city to approve more than $1 million in settlements and several environmental requirements to obtain a Texas Commission on Environmental Quality permit.
The site is through with permitting and almost completely designed, with the construction project going out for bids soon and work slated to start early next year, Vickers said.
The current landfill has three stormwater detention ponds where water and sediment collect. Sediment collects at the bottom of the ponds and runoff either evaporates or is pumped out, Vickers said. With the new site being built in proximity to reservoirs, regular groundwater and stormwater monitoring will be especially important, he said.
Vickers said the new landfill will likely end up serving more municipalities in the eastern part of the county and in Limestone County. As landfills close in the coming years due to growing populations and increased usage, the waste must have a place to go, and the landfill has a duty to the community to accept the waste it can accept rather than leaving it to illegal dumping, he said.
To complement the new landfill, the city will build a transfer station on top of a closed landfill site at University Parks Drive and Radle Road, making use of a brownfield, cutting down on daily landfill traffic and offering the city another tool to control waste entering the landfill. Trucks picking up residential waste, for example, may take trash to the transfer station, where it would be bailed and hauled to the landfill on semis.
The city is looking at options for a third-party gas company to buy the landfill’s methane gas produced by decomposing waste, creating a beneficial use for the methane gas, Vickers said. The city is currently flaring the gas and is on the cusp of increased air permitting and regulation if it produces more gas, he said.
It is also exploring options to build a solar power farm on top of a brownfield once the current landfill closes, and there are conversations at the city level about organic waste and composing, Vickers said. For now, the materials are ground up and used to help with slope stability and to increase the chance of grass and vegetation regrowth, he said.