/ Modified oct 31, 2015 10:13 a.m.

METRO WEEK: Keeping Tucson's Landfill from Filling Up

Moving the weigh scales and admin offices will allow landfill expansion.

Tucson's Los Reales landfill will be taking trash for 50 more years.

Recent upgrades to the site moved the weigh scales and administration offices from the west side of the landfill near I-10 and Swan, to the east side, near I-10 and Craycroft. That will allow the city to eventually expand the landfill to the west side no longer in use for other activities.

The new scale is state-of-the art, and combined with a new administration office, the project cost $7 million, said Andy Quigley, director of the Tucson Environmental Services Department. The money came from landfill-user fees, paid by 137,000 residential customers and 3,400 commercial customers. Plus, all of the private company trash haulers pay to dump at the landfill.

Without the changes the city would have lost about 10 percent of the landfill storage space and, therefore, reduced its life, Quigley said.

The city is spending another $1.3 million to purchase some homes near the north end of the facility, along Craycroft Road that now carries heavy trash truck traffic.

"We're going to be constructing probably in the next two years a new self-haul facility," he said.

That will make the process more efficient. Residents and small loads on pick-up trucks will be able to dump in an area separated from the big city and commercial trash trucks.

Daily operations

Every day the city takes in about 1,500 tons of trash at Los Reales Landfill, Quigley said.

Trash trucks and residents dump their refuse at the landfill's "face." It's the pile of trash typically associated with a landfill.

After a truck dumps, a bulldozer shoves the load of trash toward a trash hill, and levels off the layer. Then a compactor drives over the trash to reduce its volume. The trucks are equipped with GPS computers that tell the driver how many times the vehicle needs to pass over each section of the trash to compact it enough.

"It looks like a dump to everybody else, but there's a lot of technology at use in those pieces of equipment," he said.

Each night the active section of the landfill is covered with tarps, and at the end of a week, the trash "cell" that was filled all week is covered with dirt. Then, a new section of the landfill is opened and the process starts over.

Most people probably don't realize, Quigley said, that the landfill treats 1 million gallons day of contaminated water.

"It's water that we've removed PCE and TCE contamination. A portion of this landfill is unlined," he said, which means liquid from the trash can seep into groundwater. The treated water is sprayed on the landfill surfaces for dust control, he said.

What's next?
After the city fills the landfill in 50 years, it might turn to new technology for waste disposal, or hauling waste to a new landfill, Quigley said.

If there were to be a carbon tax, it would make financial sense to incinerate trash, he said. It would reduce the landfill's carbon footprint because the trash would produce less methane.

"Ultimately, if there was a carbon tax, then we would need to do something else with our trash rather than put it in the ground and letting it degrade," Quigley said.

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