Workers at the South Wake Landfill bragged last week about how different it is from the stereotypical dump.
Now, the landfill, off N.C. 55 between Apex and Holly Springs, has some national recognition to back up the bragging, thanks to the landfill’s system that helps the environment and produces revenue.
Some other landfills across North Carolina have a similar system, but Wake County’s only active landfill grabbed the attention of the National Association of Counties because of its sheer size. The association presented Wake County with a number of environmental awards last week, including one for the landfill.
For the past year, INGENCO, a private contractor, has been refining the gas by operating a small power plant at the landfill. It harnesses the methane produced by decomposing trash and turns it into energy that’s then sold to Duke Energy.
Wake County gets 22 percent of the revenue, making money while also helping rid the environment of one of the main culprits behind the greenhouse effect.
The landfill takes in 1,800 tons of garbage daily and produces enough electricity to power about 4,000 homes.
Despite the landfill’s size and constant activity, neighbors are relatively quiet about any complaints. A community group tasked with relaying concerns about the South Wake Landfill has reduced its meetings to just twice a year, and fewer than 10 people reportedly attend a typical meeting.
The lack of interest in the landfill is reassuring, said John Roberson, director of waste and recycling for Wake County.
“I assume part of that is the community is fairly accepting of the landfill,” Roberson said.
Indeed, a neighborhood of large homes, all built in the last few years, can be seen from the top of the active garbage pit.
And even though there’s no mistaking this landfill for what it is – trash trucks and heavy equipment are constantly in motion, and the smell is noticeable if not overbearing – it’s better than it could be, according to the national county government group.
The landfill earned NACo’s praise for being “designed, constructed and operated in a manner to reduce impacts to the environment and public health.”
The site is certainly not devoid of nature. Gulls and vultures circle the trash pit, a group of wild turkeys roam the hundreds of undeveloped acres on site, and about a dozen bald eagles live in the area. On a hill overlooking the site, butterflies perch on flowers and gas pipes.
The landfill has a number of measures to reduce pollution, smell and dust. There are even workers who walk the roads of the site, picking up wayward garbage.
In a few years their workload will grow, as a 28-acre expansion is now underway. Some of the work there, or on other waste and recycling sites around the county, could be funded by the money the power plant is bringing the county.
“It’s a growing amount, and as the landfill grows, the energy output will grow,” Roberson said.
Roberson said earnings from the sales should pay off the initial refinery investment in about four years. After that, the money can be put toward other projects.
SCS Engineering, a firm that has assisted the county with studies and designs for the landfill, also praised the end result and the recognition it has received.
“We’re excited that NACo is recognizing the environmental benefits and economic value that an integrated solid waste management program, such as Wake County’s program, can have,” said Bob Dick, the company’s vice president and project director, in a news release. “Wake County has taken the concept of an integrated program and really run with it.”