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'Trash-For-Cash' Has Governments Promoting Landfills

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Municipal recycling programs are expanding across the region, but some governments are cutting deals with waste companies to bring more garbage to area landfills.

They certainly don't look or smell pretty, but landfills are sweet sources of revenue for many North Carolina communities. Environmental groups maintain local government policies increasingly favor boosting the amount of waste going into landfills rather than recycling to extend the life of existing dumps.

"This is a real cash cow for them," John Runkle of the Conservation Council said.

When Wake County commissioners awarded the contract to operate the planned Holly Springs landfill to Waste Industries last summer, for example, the deciding factor was that the company guaranteed it would put 20,000 tons of garbage in the dump each year. The county earns a set fee for each ton.

"We''ve turned garbage into money-making propositions for local governments," Molly Diggins of the Sierra Club said. "It's almost as if we're trying to encourage putting more waste into our landfills."

Wake County Board of Commissioners Chairman Tony Gurley opposed locating a landfill in Holly Springs, but he supports the trash-for-cash principle. Cutting waste in landfills isn't cost effective, he said.

"There is a certain amount of trash that has to go in there to maximize the efficiency of that landfill," Gurley said. "All of the citizens of Wake County would be paying higher fees for their trash."

State lawmakers put several proposed landfills in eastern North Carolina on hold for fear the state could become a dumping ground. They are looking at the environmental and financial factors involved in landfill deals.

Environmental groups want more economic incentives for recycling, but waste industry executives maintain landfills are the most cost-effective way to dispose of garbage.


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