Vertical landfills could solve Florida’s trash problem

landfill Watchdog
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Cities and counties across the country have for years buried trash in landfills. But are we finally running out of space?

Mark Roberts, vice president of HDR, Inc., a global engineering firm, doesn’t think so.

“Florida has lots of airspace,” Roberts told in a recent interview for our series “Recycling Florida.”

Using airspace, or “going up,” is an innovative approach to garbage disposal that’s not just proving effective, but also undermines many of the capacity concerns historically expressed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, environmentalists and media critics.

It entails digging a large hole — 200 feet deep and half a mile wide — lining the hole with heavy-duty plastic, then adding layers of dirt and trash until the hole is filled.

“The EPA, the press, and other commentators have focused on the number of landfills, rather than on capacity, which was growing rapidly, and concluded that we were running out of space,” wrote Daniel K. Benjamin, a senior fellow at the Property and Environment Research Center in Bozeman, Mont., in his book Recycling Myths Revisited.

From 1994 to 2001, no landfills were built in Florida, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

In the past 11 years, only two landfills have been developed, one in Lee County and another in Osceola County.

But there was a problem.

“What the EPA failed to notice was that landfills had gotten bigger faster, so that total landfill capacity was actually rising.” Benjamin said.

That’s now the conclusion of DEP, Florida’s top environmental agency, “On a statewide basis, there currently appears to be adequate landfill disposal capacity.”

DEP also says that in recent years the amount of trash in Florida has actually gone down, mostly due to greater efficiencies in industries that generate large quantities of discarded materials.

How much space is needed to deal with America’s garbage?

“Not much,”  Benjamin said.

Benjamin calculates that if trash was stacked at 255 feet high, only about 10 square miles would be needed to store the country’s garbage for the next 100 years.

“Ted Turner’s Flying D ranch outside Bozeman, Montana, could handle all of America’s trash for the next century — with 50,000 acres left over for his bison,” he said.

Published with permission from

Contact Marianela Toledo en [email protected] twitter @mtoledoreporter

Related in Watchdog’s “Recycling Florida” series:  Florida counties, private firms profit from mandatory recycling programs


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