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Going up? Expanding Landfills Vertically Could Solve Florida’s Trash Problems

December 1, 2013 - 6:00pm

Cities and counties across the country have for years buried trash in landfills. But are we finally running out of space?

Mark Roberts, vice president of HDR Inc., a global engineering firm, doesnt think so.

Florida has lots of airspace, Roberts told in a recent interview.

Using airspace, or going up, is an innovative approach to garbage disposal thats not just proving effective, but undermines many of the capacity concerns historically expressed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, environmentalists and media.

It entails digging a large hole -- 200 feet deep and half a mile wide -- lining the hole with heavy-duty plastic, then adding layers of dirt and trash until the hole is filled.

The EPA, the press, and other commentators have focused on the number of landfills, rather than on capacity, which was growing rapidly, and concluded that we were running out of space, wrote Daniel K. Benjamin, a senior fellow at the Property and Environment Research Center in Bozeman, Mont., in his book "Recycling Myths Revisited."

From 1994 to 2001, no landfills were built in Florida, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

In the past 11 years, only two landfills have been developed, one in Lee County and another in Osceola County.

But there was a problem.

What the EPA failed to notice was that landfills had gotten bigger faster, so that total landfill capacity was actually rising. Benjamin said.

Thats now the conclusion of DEP, Floridas top environmental agency, On a statewide basis, there currently appears to be adequate landfill disposal capacity.

DEP also says that in recent years the amount of trash in Florida has actually gone down, mostly due to greater efficiencies in industries that generate large quantities of discarded materials.

How much space is needed to deal with Americas garbage?

Not much, Benjamin said.

Benjamin calculates that if trash was stacked at 255 feet high, only about 10 square miles would be needed to store the countrys garbage for the next 100 years.

Ted Turners Flying D ranch outside Bozeman, Mont., could handle all of Americas trash for the next century -- with 50,000 acres left over for his bison, he said.

Contact Marianela Toledo en twitter @mtoledoreporter

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