The Central Landfill has been listed as one of New England’s 12 worst polluters, a rating that a spokeswoman for Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation says is “old news” and inaccurate.
The landfill’s “dirty dozen” designation was announced Tuesday on the steps of the State House by the Boston-based Toxics Action Center. Calling on legislators to implement policies to increase recycling and reduce the waste stream were Jamie Rhodes of Clean Water Action and Greg Gerritt of the Environmental Council of Rhode Island.
While there are landfills throughout New England, Bess Beller-Levesque of Toxics Action Center said the Central Landfill was selected as one of the dirty dozen because of its odor problems of last summer and it serves most of the state. The landfill is the only Rhode Island operation to make the list.
Rhodes advocated that RIRRC stop the disposal of glass at the landfill and start saving “this valuable commodity.” He also advocated for higher municipal tipping fees, which are set by legislators and have been at $32 a ton for decades, as a means of stimulating recycling and prolonging the life of the landfill.
Gerritt said Rhode Island could make strides toward zero waste by removing food scrap from the waste stream. Using a figure of 250 tons daily – a number that could not be confirmed by RIRRC – he said, “If Rhode Island can find a way to zero waste, its economy will be much healthier than it is now.” He suggested changes in regulations to allow for small composting operations.
Also among the Dirty Dozen is Advanced Disposal that operates landfills in Vermont and Massachusetts. Others on the list are coal-fired and nuclear electric-generating plants including the Brayton Point facility; a Superfund site in Stratford, Conn., the Tar Sands Pipeline in South Portland, Maine and the Cascella Waste Management in Scarborough, Maine.
“These Dirty Dozen awards spotlight repeat offenders who have still not cleaned up their messes along with several emergent threats and generally highlight a wide array of toxic hazards ranging from leaking landfills to power plants, trash incinerators and hazardous waste sites,” reads a release issued by Toxic Action Center.
The center goes on to claim all the sites pose a significant threat to public health and the environment.
“The three R’s: reduce, reuse and recycle in today’s system of waste management only take us so far. It’s time to add a fourth “R” – for restructure – because that’s what needs to happen if we’re going to solve our waste problem,” Beller-Levesque said.
She called on the state to adopt “a zero waste” goal, offering “a circular system of resource management” where discarded resources “are looped back into the economy.”
Sarah Kite, spokeswoman for RIRRC, said Toxics Action Center did not contact the agency regarding its operations and questioned whether it had looked at its most recent EPA as well as Department of Environmental Management filings regarding its operations. In particular, she questioned the center’s citing of a half-acre hazardous waste area used between 1976 and 1979 for the disposal of 1.5 million gallons of hazardous waste, which was designated as a Superfund site.
“It’s a Superfund site, which is no secret,” she said. “This is really old news to make a call on current operations.”
As for odor complaints that Beller-Levesque listed as a reason the Central Landfill was selected, Kite said RIRRC took action and has corrected the condition.
By their very nature, Beller-Levesque said, landfills are polluters because there is no way, despite the best measures to prevent it, from stopping leachates.
In response, Kite wrote in an e-mail, “By design, landfill leachate is directed to and treated at the Cranston Sewer Facility, and landfill gas is processed at the landfill gas to an energy plant owned and operated by Broadrock Renewables. These design features are standard in modern, sanitary landfill operations such as the Central Landfill. RIRRC is proud of the work our employees do day in and day out to ensure that Rhode Island’s waste is properly managed in a safe, environmentally compliant and economically sound manner.”
On the issue of improving levels of recycling, which Rhodes brought up, Kite noted that while there is a mandate that municipalities achieve a 35 percent rate of recycling, there is “no stick” to make it happen. The incentives, however, are to reduce waste, thereby saving on tipping fees and sharing in paybacks to communities. Also, she pointed out that it is difficult to measure recycling by community because the average waste per capita varies by municipality, as does what ends up being recycled.
Kite put the projected life of the landfill at 23 years. She said RIRRC is working with Statewide Planning but that no decisions have been made after the landfill closes. She said the state faces three options: creating a new landfill, shipping out waste or building a waste to energy facility.
“To date, we’ve had no interest from any municipality to be the next landfill host, and the law prohibits RIRRC from planning, owning or operating an incinerator. So the logical option at this point would be to ship the waste out of state. If we were to ship waste in today’s market, the costs to municipalities in tipping fees and transportation would be approximately $85-100/ton, but possibly higher,” she said.