When you work for a solid waste agency, there are many questions from users about why they can’t throw something away with their garbage.
Landfills are one of the most regulated industries since they can impact land, air and water quality. One of those frequently asked questions is about yard waste. Many people don’t understand why this material was banned from being landfilled.
Since these materials are relatively clean and biodegradable, the state of Iowa banned landfill disposal of yard waste in 1991. The Iowa landfill ban on yard waste also required each city and county, by ordinance, to require persons within the city or county to separate yard waste from other solid waste generated.
The primary reason for the ban is that as yard wastes decompose in landfills, they generate methane gas. Methane is a colorless, explosive gas that is released as bacteria decompose organic materials in landfills. If methane is not controlled at a landfill, it can seep underground and into nearby buildings, where it has the potential to explode. Yard wastes also contribute acidity that can make other waste constituents more mobile, and therefore more toxic.
Literature from the United States Environmental Protection Agency Solid Waste and Emergency Response Office states that in 1991 (the year of the yard waste landfill ban in Iowa) yard wastes accounted for nearly a fifth (over 31 million tons) of all garbage generated in the U.S., making yard wastes the second largest component (by weight) of the municipal solid waste stream. The amount of yard waste generated varies considerably from region to region, during different seasons, and from one year to the next. In fact, during peak months (primarily summer and fall), yard wastes can represent as much as 25 to 50 percent of municipal solid waste.
Although yard waste cannot be landfilled, yard waste that has been separated at its source from other solid waste may be accepted by a sanitary landfill for the purposes of soil conditioning or composting. Yard waste accepted by a sanitary landfill and used on-site can only be used for the purposes of soil conditioning on finished areas of the landfill that have received the final earthen cover, developed areas with intermediate cover and restoration of soil borrow areas. Burning of yard waste at a sanitary disposal project is prohibited.
In response to the 1991 yard waste ban, the Boone County Landfill established a yard waste processing facility. The facility provides a cost-effective and environmentally responsible place for residents to dispose of their yard waste.
Information provided by Lois Powers, Administrative Services Coordinator, Boone County Landfill.