In Charge of Colonie’s Landfill:
Dir. of Environmental Services - Joe Stockbridge

Interview By RAY FELICIANO

Q: What if we didn’t have garbage collectors?

“It would be a public health nightmare. It would be a very definite attractive nuisance for vectors and vermin. You’d have a major amount of material in a relatively short period of time that would present a health risk.”

Q: What is the typical waste for a family?

“The rule of thumb is around a ton of waste per person per year. It varies per region, but it averages out to a household of two and half people. That averages to two and a half tons of material per year.

Q: Does solid waste management planning anticipate future population?

“We did our first initial solid waste management plan in the early 1990’s. It was a fifteen-year plan, which was recently updated in 2005. What that did is take the population and waste generation numbers we had and projected forward from 2005 to 2020 with growth in commercial as well as residential development within the town. When we looked at the original plan for approximately six cells on our site, we found that fifteen years was not long enough. What are we going to do after?”

landfill collage
[clockwise from top left] 1.)Dir. of Environmental Services for Colonie, Joe Stockbridge in front of a pile of compost with odor mitigation yucca plant mist blowing behind. Colonie residents get first dibs on free compost. Just $10/ton to others.
2.) These giant bulldozer looking machines munch the trash smaller with spiked teeth.
3.) Birds, mostly buzzards and seagulls can be a nuisance by picking up some of the trash, and dropping it outside the landfill.
4.) The hill in the background made of solid waste took 10 years to reach its height.
(photos: Kimberly Feliciano)

Q: How big a space is a “cell”?

“Cells are usually between eight and twelve acres and that’s premised upon filling it in five years. You don’t want them to be open too long because then you’ve got too much capacity open and that has some environmental concerns with it. You generate gas, you generate leachate—the liquid that comes out of the wastes—If you keep your size to approximately a five to eight year period or window, you can minimize the amount of material you generate and thereby minimize what we call your ‘environmental footprint’.

Q: How far are land fills kept away from rivers and residences?

“It depends on the type of water source. Our facility is proximate to the Mohawk River. Ideally you have a minimum separation, by state regulation, of 100 feet. The premise on that is zero discharge from the facility.”

Q: Are garbage incinerators still used? What about their environmental impact?

“There’s two trains of thought in the industry. An incinerator is just combustion of waste without energy recovery. A ‘resource recovery facility’ is combustion of waste with energy, and sometimes metals recovery and other materials recovery. Most of the incinerators in the state, with the exception of medical waste incinerators, are no longer used. The new facilities, although they still use incineration, have new technologies that recover the energy and reduce overall emissions. They’ve significantly reduced their footprint. A resource recovery facility still has an environmental footprint—still generates ash, but doesn’t tend to be hazardous. A number of landfills use it as a daily cover. Some of the ashes are used in construction of concrete blocks for retaining walls in the ocean. In the more recent facilities they’re recovering as much of the metals as possible, especially the metals having an economic value.”

Q: Are disposable diapers a problem now?

“What part of the country are you in? In the Northeast you would be better off using reusable diapers instead of disposable. In areas that are water lacking, you’d be better off using disposables because they have larger concentrations of very large landfills with extra capacity. There may be some mothers that would argue with me about washing diapers, but that’s the environmental part of it.”

Q: Is it true that diapers don’t disintegrate?

“No plastics. One of the misconceptions in regards to landfills is that the waste goes into landfills, it decomposes, and it goes away. Dr. Rathje from Phoenix area has done ‘The Garbage Project’ which went around the country digging up old landfills. They found that a normal landfill operates almost as a baby tomb, not a digester. Everything is pretty much intact. The classic example of that are newspapers… readable for fifty years.”

Q: What factors go into picking the area designated as a landfill or garbage dump?

“Oh, I object to the term ‘dump’. ‘Dump’ has a very bad connotation in my business. A dump is termed an ‘open dump’, circa the 60’s, that any low area, any vacant land that had very little value—swamps, old mine pits, anything was used as a ‘dump’. Solid waste management facilities have a lot of engineering that go into them, and have a lot of operational requirements. Tours is one of the best things we do—about a thousand people a year at our facility. That’s a great opportunity for education because when most people think of waste, they put it out at the curb and it goes away. Well, I’m the away. It’s somebody else’s backyard.”

Q: Is public input requested when designating a new area for a landfill?

“During the planning process we have public meetings. There is a public comment period usually between fifteen and thirty days on the permit action. With any new facility, there are extended legislative hearings, and they can go on for months. Also, our town is taking the tact that we’re neighbors. We want to be good neighbors. There are inherent negatives when it comes to running a landfill. You have odors, birds, dust. Our landfill tries to be as good a neighbor as we can, given the materials that we deal with.”

Q: What about the $3.6 million Green Energy Project to turn gases from landfills into electricity?

“Good question. That’s a twenty-year project. It came to fruition in 2005. We’ve been looking at landfill gas collection and generation since the early 80’s. Initially we didn’t have enough gas. It wasn’t of a sufficient quality. And there weren’t enough vendors with a stable track record. We couldn’t set up a program to utilize the gas and get a value back. We went ahead and developed an active gas collection system that went to a flaring system. Flaring gas—it’s a waste—is strictly a candle. Burning it reduces greenhouse gas emissions and odors. My neighbors were happy that the landfill gas-to-electricity project went online because that has economic value to it. We’ve had not quite two full months of operation. The company we hired to develop the project is Innovative Energy Systems (IES) out of Oakview, NY. We’re doing about 3.5 megawatts of power, consuming about 1,400 cubic feet of gas per minute. It’s been lucrative because the energy costs look good right now. It took us a long time to get there, but it’s been very positive.”

Q: How are these gases collected?

“On the older sections of landfill that have reached capacity, they put a cap over the top of it. The way the gas is collected is that as we fill waste we are actually putting a piping system into the waste. The whole site is on a negative vacuum, so it’s drawing air into the site as opposed to letting gas emit from it. That’s one of the best ways you can control your odors. As you do a new area, you put your new lines in, cover the top of them, and usually within a year you’ll be generating some quality of gas. It’s a biological process very similar to making wine or beer. You really need to have the right components of bugs, food, lack of oxygen, and moisture, to produce a good quality methane.”

Q: Does Town of Colonie get revenue from that?

“The way that the contract is structured, we share it with IES. They get half the profit, we get half the profit. We have basically zero risk. As long as we continue to supply them gas, and they can sell the electricity, we’ll get fifty-percent of the revenues.”

Q: Have we become a “throw-away society”?

“We’ve become a convenience society, yes. If it’s convenient to throw it in the trash, they’ll throw it in the trash. If it’s convenient to throw it in the recyclables, they’ll throw it in the recyclables. Unfortunately, not all these things lend themselves to setting up systems that are simple and easy. It’s convenience.”

Q: Do we need more public service messages like the one with the crying Indian Chief?

“That was ‘Keep America Beautiful’. Yep. One of the things that would really help—one of the reasons there’s a problem with scavenging is because there are good things thrown out that still have value. If you can get them to someone who can use them—and there are exchange programs for that—instead of throwing it out, they reuse it. Those types of programs need more PR. Other than the Salvation Army or that type of a group, they don’t normally have pickup. But if you don’t know where they are, you don’t think about it. Yeah, that would be very beneficial because there is a niche of material that gets thrown out that is reusable. You can bring materials in and it’s like fifty cents for a door. It’s become self-funding.”

Q: What technologies could we focus on to improve waste management?

“You touched on one—environmental education is one we have done a very poor job of. We started back in the 80’s, and the state had a program for recycling coordinators that evolved into environmental educators. That’s one of the programs that’s not getting enough funding, not enough attention. Those types of programs would be very beneficial.”

Q: Is environmental science a growing field?

“Not fast enough. If students want to go into a field that would give them a good probability of getting a decent job, the storm water program in this state is booming. It’s basically hydrology, microbiology, and environment. They’re in incredible demand right now. It’s only going to increase over the next couple of years as those regulations kick in. Every municipality in this state is going to have to have a storm water program. Consultants can’t find these people fast enough.”

Q: Could taking care of our environment be good for business, lucrative, and pro-industry?

“We recently had—we were lucky—a company called CRM, a tire-recycling group, move into town. They’re a major user of recycled tires. I mean millions and millions of pounds of recycled tires to produce products that you are not going to even realize are recycled products. The more places I have that can use those products, means my markets that process those tires are going to have markets they can supply tire chip to. You generate it, give it to me, I process it and take it to the guy who does the chip, he makes it into chip, the chip goes to this company, this company makes it into a product that you’re going to buy back. That’s a great loop. In solid waste, a stable marketplace is good.”

Q: What would you like people to know about waste management and the state association?

“One of the big things about the NY State Association for Solid Waste Management [NYSASWM] is that there’s a network of professionals across the state who have taken what used to be an open dump and made it into a standard of operations that has improved the environmental benefit of these facilities. From the two thousand open dumps we had, we’re down to twenty-six operating landfills. You don’t have the landfill fire problem that we had in past years. You don’t have the illegal disposal. As the association, we’re helping to maintain that education, to maintain that standard of expectation. If we find a better way to slice the apple, we get the word out so everybody knows how it’s done—a new technology, a new process, or maybe a new manufacturer of a new product.”

Drop off location:
Div. of Environmental Services
1319 Loudon Road
Cohoes, NY 12047

www.colonie.org/envsvc