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Environmental Services

Landfills

The material we manage—across our recycling facilities, organics processing operations and landfills—is a function of what, and how much, people and businesses throw away.

Over the years, we have observed significant changes in MSW streams. For example, between 1990 and 2018, the amount of MSW to landfills in the U.S. decreased even as the population grew. Although we are managing more waste today than we were 10 years ago, our emissions per ton have declined. In spite of this reduction, large volumes of material that could be recycled or composted are still being sent to landfills.

As North America’s leading environmental services provider, WM is committed to ensuring that all discarded material is handled in the most environmentally beneficial way, which often includes changing the behavior of industries and individuals. We are making progress by working across our supply chain to help develop new technologies and markets for post-consumer materials while educating consumers on how to dispose of all forms of waste.

Given currently available technology, many waste streams still cannot successfully or profitably be processed into new materials. To ensure that these forms of waste do not enter natural land areas or waterways, where they can cause harm as they degrade, we manage them safely and sustainably through our network of 263 active MSW landfill sites across the U.S. and Canada. Combined, these sites process over 100 million tons of waste annually.

The Making of a Modern Landfill

The scene you might picture when you hear the word “landfill” is a thing of the past. Today’s landfills are sophisticated, highly engineered structures that contribute to environmental safety and sustainability. Landfills are triple-lined, and any water that enters them is captured so that it does not enter the environment before being treated.

Beyond being safe places to store waste, landfills are often sources of renewable energy and frequently serve new purposes after closure. They are filled over many decades and are monitored for decades after closure. Therefore, WM considers a long-term view of these sites, ensuring that we mitigate potential impacts and keep communities safe and secure for generations to come.

Thousands of pumps, valves, blowers and flares are required for the safe management of modern landfills. Ongoing collection of data from these assets, often collected by checking meters positioned throughout landfill sites, is essential for landfills’ safe operation.

WM’s Connected Landfills system simplifies this work, equipping landfill gas and water management assets with internet-connected devices and sensors. Following a successful pilot at the West Edmonton Landfill in Alberta, Canada, WM expanded Connected Landfills to 12 additional sites in 2020.

The Connected Landfills system allows technicians to review data remotely via dashboards on mobile devices, allowing them to monitor changes and directly interact with equipment with the push of a button. Plus, dashboards with analysis and trending capabilities allow for better decision making. With less time spent traveling to and throughout a site, landfill employees can spend more time managing landfills’ productivity and health.

During the stay-at-home orders, employee medical leave and social distancing measures required during the pandemic, WM’s Connected Landfills provided oversight to managers, engineers and technicians, ensuring world-class operations without interruption. The technology won the 2020 Firebrand Award at the Ignition Community Conference, a conference for innovation in the industrial sphere.

Providing Long-Term Value

Sooner or later, all landfills reach capacity. But that doesn’t mean they reach the end of their useful life. After closure, monitoring continues, adhering to strict standards to ensure their long-term safety. Then, WM can convert land surrounding closed disposal sites into beneficial community assets. In addition, we currently lease land at eight closed landfills for solar energy development.

Beyond providing valuable land for renewable energy projects, closed landfills are often converted into recreational spaces such as parks, golf courses and athletic fields, as well as nature preserves and habitat for wildlife. For example, the El Sobrante Landfill in Southern California is converted to wildlife habitat as portions of the landfill close. The restored El Sobrante Landfill and wildlife preserve will eventually span over 1,300 acres of open space for the protection of 31 sensitive plant and animal species. El Sobrante is also located in an important migratory path for birds and other wildlife. Its permanent protected status means it will play a vital role in the local ecosystem well into the future. Read more about WM’s work with WHC and the social and environmental benefits of WM’s nature preserves and wildlife habitat at closed landfills.