Safe Landfills

Waste Management provides solid waste collection services to more than 21 million customers in North America – from households to public venues to large companies. All told, after recycling or diverting various materials for reuse, we safely manage the disposal of nearly 100 million tons of waste annually, including common municipal trash and highly specialized materials such as medical and industrial waste. To handle this volume, Waste Management operates the largest network of landfills in our industry and works hard to minimize the impact of those facilities on neighbors and the environment.

Modern landfills are the products of sophisticated engineering, providing both secure containment systems for the disposal of waste and the opportunity to capture value through the conversion of waste to energy. Waste Management’s modern landfills in the United States were developed under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), which requires rigorous siting evaluation, site characterization and scientific engineering design, as well as a comprehensive permitting and regulatory approval process that includes public notification and comment. RCRA standards also require a range of measures to prevent environmental contamination, including the use of engineered liners and covers, collection and control systems for landfill gas, and collection and treatment systems for leachate (water that accumulates in and filters through waste).

Our modern sites are designed and operated to ensure that our landfills go beyond regulatory requirements. We continually monitor and work to improve the safety and environmental security of our disposal facilities, and are committed to reporting the results of these efforts. We strive to avoid conditions that cause concern for neighbors and communities, including odors and noise, regardless of whether those conditions are covered in our regulatory obligations. We also work with waste sector experts to understand what happens within landfills after they are closed. Studies have shown that modern municipal solid waste landfills tend to improve predictably over time, steadily producing less gas and less (and cleaner) leachate. Many of our landfills are designed and managed to ensure they can be used after closure for commerce, industry or even conversion into wildlife habitat or public parks.

Protecting Surface Water and Groundwater

Waste Management utilizes extensive engineering controls and practices to protect surface water and groundwater, and we’re always seeking ways to improve upon these. We maintain a comprehensive network of more than 6,000 groundwater-monitoring wells around our facilities, and every landfill uses monitoring strategies (many involving sophisticated statistical evaluations) to ensure that water quality in adjacent surface water and groundwater bodies is not impacted. We are pleased to report that our modern municipal solid waste landfill liners continue to perform as designed, not allowing leakage through the liner that would require corrective action to clean up groundwater under neighboring properties. To make sure that remains the case, we employ a staff of nearly 200 professional engineers, environmental scientists, regulatory experts and technicians who ensure that every facility works to protect surface water, stormwater and groundwater from any potential operational impacts.

We use managed basins, tanks, containment structures and separators to redirect for proper disposal and treatment any contact water that is created. We also audit our on-site wastewater treatment plants to optimize efficiency and utilize a toolkit of best management practices for our field operations. This toolkit has facilitated the reduction of water that comes in contact with waste or contaminants.

Providing Safe Disposal of Pharmaceuticals

Not all waste is created equal. The disposal of certain materials requires more care. Our PharmEcology® Services program provides safe pharmaceutical waste disposal to the healthcare industry, including acute care hospitals, clinics, surgery centers and long-term care facilities. Properly destroying and disposing of these drugs ensures that they do not create damage to the environment or provide opportunities for drug abuse. In 2014 and 2015, our program diverted more than 1.5 million pounds of waste pharmaceuticals from damaging practices such as dumping pharmaceuticals into the sewage system.