The Wake County landfill is expected to reach capacity within the next 20 years. Where will the county put all of its garbage? :: WRAL.com

The Wake County landfill is expected to reach capacity within the next 20 years.  Where will the county put all of its garbage?  :: WRAL.com

— Wake County has a problem that many grow areas across the country face: where do people put all their trash?

The county’s 300-acre landfill in Apex is packed.

The county is already home to 1,150,204 people, according to July 2021 data from the US Census Bureau.

County leaders estimate that 62 people move to Wake every day and more than 225,000 new residents have settled in the area over the past decade. By 2040, the county estimates the landfill will fill to the brim and the county will need to find a new place to store residents’ waste.

“To some it seems far away, but it’s around the corner,” said Wake County Solid Waste Manager John Roberson.

For most people, they throw away their trash, and they can’t stop thinking about it. However, many materials that make up everyday trash – plastic, glass, metal, polystyrene or aluminum – either don’t break down at all or take years to break down.

“The economy is growing, and so is the waste,” Roberson said.

The county landfill absorbs approximately 550,000 tons of waste each year. In some places, the landfill is 100 feet deep, Roberson said.

“If you don’t have a place to put your garbage…look at third world countries that don’t have good garbage disposal sites and the health issues,” he said.

According to Wake County’s 2020 Comprehensive Solid Waste Plan, the county disposes of waste at a slightly higher rate than other neighboring counties, primarily due to construction and demolition in the area.

More than 50 mattresses deposited daily at the South Wake landfill; they are not easy to break down, according to the plan. More than $1 million in funding is spent on breaking down tires, which are expensive to manage and compact, the report also says.

Bianca Bradford Howard, outreach and marketing supervisor for the Wake County Department of Environmental Services, said there’s a way for everyone in Wake County to reduce the amount of waste they can produce.

Reduce, reuse, recycle to extend the life of the landfill

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, each American produces an average of 4.5 pounds of trash every day, most of it being paper, cardboard and food waste.

“Choose reusable bags, bring your own bags to store, bring your own water bottle,” Howard said.

The EPA estimates that one-third of all American food goes uneaten and ends up in landfills. To reduce food waste, experts recommend researching the best ways to preserve your food so it lasts longer. For example, most vegetables should be placed in the high humidity drawer of the refrigerator. Most fruit should go in the low humidity drawer of the refrigerator, according to the EPA.

Developing cities around the world are struggling to know what to do with their waste. Some cities, like San Francisco, have made recycling and composting a requirement for all businesses and residences. After implementing this policy, the city exceeded its goals for reducing the amount of waste sent to landfills, the EPA said.

Wake County would need new space, away from urbanization, that would be large enough to hold a new mound of trash, Roberson said.

This new space should be “at least 300 to 400 acres to build a modern landfill,” he said.

The previous Wake County Landfill filled in 1998 and was turned into Green Hills County Park.

The county offers free landfill tours to help educate people about where their trash goes once the garbage collector picks it up.

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