“Virginia is for Dumpers.” So?

Yesterday’s Richmond Times-Dispatch published the seemingly alarming news (“Virginia is for Dumpers“) that shipments of trash from other states to Virginia increased 18 percent in 2004, reaching 7.8 million tons. That includes everything from household trash and construction debris to medical waste and treated human waste. Virginia now retains the dubious distinction of being the No. 2 trash importer, behind Pennsylvania, in the country.

I know this really upsets my friends in the environmental community, but I just don’t get it. Trash has to go somewhere, doesn’t it? What difference does it make if it winds up in a landfill in New York or Virginia? It’s not as if we Virginians have to smell the stuff. We wouldn’t even know it was there if the T-D didn’t tell us!

I have a laissez-faire attitude towards the shipping and disposal of trash as long as–and this is an important qualification–it’s dumped in properly regulated landfills that protect the groundwater from leachate and the neighbors from nasty odors. As best as I can tell, Virginia’s massive, industrial-sized landfills have done a great job. If they didn’t, we would have heard about it.

Actually, I regard the trash disposal business as a good thing. I marvel that New Yorkers and other out-of-staters are actually paying us cash money to take their garbage. The big landfills are located in poor, out-of-the-way jurisdictions like Charles City and Amelia, and pay the localities handsomely for the privilege. The greater the volume of trash, the higher the payments to these localities, allowing them to support higher levels of services–especially funding for schools–than they otherwise could afford. If New Yorkers want to subsidize the education of Virginia children because no one wants landfills in the Empire State, that’s fine with me.

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  1. Will Vehrs Avatar
    Will Vehrs

    Jim, mark me down as one who of the probably small group who agrees with you.

    Charles City County has one industry–their state of the art landfill. Check out their schools and municipal building. The landfill that so disturbs people outside of the county pays for excellent government facilities that wouldn’t be there otherwise.

    I recognize that one concern is the transportation of the waste into Virginia. If you took all the waste haulers off the road tomorrow, we’d still have gridlock. Some of the haulers are using trucks with safety violations, but that’s an industry-wide problem, not confined to one type of truck.

  2. subpatre Avatar

    It’s puzzling that the article doesn’t mention that the increase is entirely due to our ‘environmentally conscious’ neighbor. The top 3 are: District of Columbia (1.3 million tons, down 7%), New York (1.9 million tons, same), and Maryland (3.3 million tons, up 32%).

    On the plus side, some of these landfills may generate income for years after they’re closed. Several locations have tapped methane for industry and several more are in the works.

  3. Mark down another person in agreement with Jim. Trash has to go somewhere. As long as they’re not piling it in the streets…who cares?

    This was yet another cheap political issue pushed by Gilmore.

  4. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    In my earlier years as an environmental chemist I had dealings in the disposal business. I was working with two outfits, one called something like Citizens for Clean Air, and the other called something like Citizens for Clean Water. The first consisted of owners of landfills and the second consited of owners of incinerators. Each was lobbying for laws to restrict the others in order to increase their business. Waste has to go somewhere, just not to my competitor.

    I’m working on a story line for a novel which is based on the idea that the entire green movement was created by the Mafia in order to enhance their position in the waste hauling business. The main character would be a sort of son of Godfather II who has made it to the senate in order to further family goals. His downfall comes when he falls in love with an investigative reporter/environmentalist who then discovers the whole ruse.

    One problem is that basically anything that is acidic, basic, or flammable is now hazardous waste, and that increases disposal costs and dumpsite requirements enormously.

    Some environmental people oppose development because it takes land out of circulation forever, landfills do pretty much the same. But people and trash have to go somewhere, and not likely the same place. So if you don’t want dumpsites nearby, then pray for population.

    Like transportation, this is an area where we need a lot of new answers. Why do we have deposit on soda bottles instead of autos and refrigerators? If manufactureres knew that stuff was coming back when obsolete, they would make them readily repairable. Just insisting on items being constructed so that they can be repaired would take a lot of stuff out of the landfill.

    New lawnmowers no longer come with adjustable or repairable carburetors, and the carburetor costs as much as the mower. The result is that in an effort to promote cleaner air we now junk many more mowers which have to be manufactures at some cost to air quality. This strikes me as nuts.

    Landfills are a striking example of single use zoning, and because they are so hard to site, they tend to be far apart, which increases hauling costs. But if there was a real market for dissasembling, repairing, and recycling things, that industry could operate, in many cases, in a more nearly mixed use environment. Instead, the requirements for landfills make the failure of re-use and re-cycling a self fulfilling prophecy.

    That market won’t happen until we are a lot less wealthy, or things cost a lot more. Consider mines. They routinely dig up and waste ore that contains valuable minerals, because the market won’t justify the cost to extract it. Then when prices go up they can go back and re-process that ore to get lower grade material out. This is a lot more expensive and wasteful than getting it out at the margin the first time the ore is handled, but there is simply no way to make the market support the extra cost. It is the same with manufactured goods, unfortunately.

  5. Will Vehrs Avatar
    Will Vehrs

    Ray, the next to last paragraph of your comment caught my eye.

    Many cities and counties in Virginia fund business incubators–they take an old building, turn it into office space, lease it for peanuts to small or start-up businesses, and nurture them so that they will move out into private leased space and open up incubator space for a new company. Predominantly, they aim for “high-tech” kinds of businesses.

    I’ve always thought that localities with landfills should establish “recycling incubators” on their sites. Various commodities could be removed from the waste stream by low-tech entrepreneurs with little more than a pick-up truck and a few tools, such as construction debris, metals, and anything else with value.

    Some landfills used to have “scavenger” rules or “too good to throw away” piles, but I think most of those have disappeared. My idea for recycling incubators would revive the concept in a different way.

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