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Denton’s landfill changes fuel concerns for community waste and elections

Photo taken by Randall Morris, City of Denton, Solid Waste and Recycling Department.

The looming landfill on South Mayhill road rises like a magnificent mountain, or at least a nose-wrinkling one. Denton’s landfill, which once attracted international news for being the first eco-friendly landfill, doesn’t appear at the moment to be a great solution to the county and city’s increasing waste over the last decade.

In April, the City of Denton requested to expand it’s landfill vertically and laterally to accommodate for the rising tons of waste from Denton residents and outside sources in the region.

Denton’s history of environmental issues, from fracking to poor air quality, has become a hot topic for local representatives and residents. With Denton’s mayoral elections growing closer and closer, residents and advocacy groups have expressed their concerns for the growing landfill and its potential environmental effects on the city’s air and water supply as well as their recycling efforts in Denton.

“Denton residents are concerned about their city. They are extremely engaged. Clean air and clean water are vital to a high quality of life. They understand the importance of many cities to do what we can to make an impact for future generations,” Denton mayoral candidate and city council member Keely Briggs said.

Denton’s landfill was established in 1985 and has been expanded several times at the city’s current facility on South Mayhill Road. The landfill has approximately 15 years of life left in it before Denton residents will need to find a new place to dispose of their waste, according to the city’s Director of Solid Waste Brian Boerner.

The permit the City of Denton submitted in April 2020 requests the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to approve expanding the landfill by 100 acres north and 200 feet high to accommodate the increase in waste from Denton residents and outside sources, such as the impending closure of the DFW Recycling and Disposal Facility in Lewisville.

“We’re already seeing impacts from the closure of the DFW [Recycling and Disposal Facility] landfill in Lewisville and that is a private landfill owned by Waste Management,” Boerner said.

The DFW Recycling and Disposal Facility in Lewisville is expected to reach its capacity in the next three years. The DFW facility reported receiving 1,559,518 tons of waste in 2018, according to an annual report from the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality.

In comparison, the City of Denton’s landfill received 278,298 tons in 2018, which Boerner expects will increase exponentially once the DFW facility shutters and diverts its waste to other landfills in the area such as the Camelot and Lewisville landfills.

This visualization compares the four Denton County landfills and the number of tons received in 2018 in comparison to the remaining yards and tons the facilities are able to withhold. The DFW Recycling and Disposal Facility has an estimated three years before it meets its capacity. The Camelot and Lewisville landfills each have approximately 62 years before they reach their capacity. Lastly, the City of Denton Landfill has approximately 17 years until it reaches its capacity.

Denton’s landfill was considered one of the first eco-friendly landfills after implementing landfill mining in 2016. The landfill mining process involved using already buried waste, recovering it and removing recyclable material for processing to allow the soil to air out, decreasing the soil volume and later decomposing, according to a 2016 report from the North Texas Daily.

Yet, the landfill mining project was shuttered in 2017 before the project could begin.

“With the recent collapse of the recycling market, increased processing costs and much more stringent cover material at the existing landfill, the cost to support this effort became significantly greater than anticipated and that could have been supported by Denton ratepayers,” Boener said.

In response to the recycling market collapse and the landfill’s changes, the city and its Solid Waste Department are undertaking a Comprehensive Solid Waste Management Strategy, “which will describe and define what waste management, including diversion and disposal, looks like in the future based on the technology and operational considerations available in 2020,” according to Boerner.

Denton residents and environmental advocacy groups worry there will be an influx of trash and recyclables that will overwhelm the landfill in addition to the outside sales of waste that already occur.

The Texas Campaign for the Environment created a petition to inform Denton officials signers support Zero Waste policies, reduced trash imports and to limit the size of the landfill, according to their campaign website. During an online hearing in June, approximately 60 Denton residents protested the expansion and the importation of outside waste to the city’s landfill.

With the Denton mayoral election coming up, Denton constituents have expressed their worries to candidates Keely Briggs and Gerard Hudspeth.

“We need to stop outside sales of waste,” Briggs says. “Recycling will help, but it isn’t the answer. We can use multi-family units and commercial recycling, but if it is contaminated it will not be recycled. So education is still critically important.”

Hudspeth pointed out the various programs the City of Denton has implemented over the years to aid with the reduction of solid waste.

“The landfill expansion application is not imminent,” Hudspeth says. “Denton has a number of programs that encourage citizens to reduce the amount of waste. Specifically, the dumpsters downtown were removed so that the individual commercial customers could be accountable for their solid waste. Denton offers recycling centers and free pickup to discourage illegal dumping.”

Despite the upcoming election and concerns over the landfill, candidates and the City of Denton Solid Waste Department are confident of changes being made for the future of the community’s waste disposal and quality of life. At the state level, the Solid Waste Department is not seeking any changes to environmental regulations and waste disposal until two legislative sessions from now in 2023. Locally, Boerner hopes the Comprehensive Solid Waste Management Strategy will provide the changes the landfill needs before Texas’ 88th Legislative session in 2023.

“The landfill is a limited resource, and the city has to be a great steward of that resource,” Hudspeth says. “The landfill and other concerns are important because the citizens of Denton want to ensure future generations have an excellent quality of life in Denton. It is a concern because Denton is growing, and it needs policies to limit growth’s effect on the environment.”

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