Several factors impact landfill’s lifespan

Five trips a day are made between the Huntington City Landfill and the wastewater treatment plant to properly handle the leachate at the landfill.
Five trips a day are made between the Huntington City Landfill and the wastewater treatment plant to properly handle the leachate at the landfill. Photo provided.

Third in a series
City of Huntington
The Huntington City Landfill, which opened in 1970, won’t be around to see its 50th birthday.
Beset by rising costs, ever tightening environmental regulations, and the consequences of missteps in the past, the landfill is now being permanently closed. Trash pickup and disposal in the City of Huntington will be outsourced to a private company.

Large amounts of trash from out-of-county users, the failed promise of a waste-to-energy project and the up-and-down history of recycling have combined with changing rules to create a moving target for the expected lifespan of the city landfill.

The landfill, which was opened in 1970, saw its first major expansion in 1994. At the time, the landfill was accepting between 30 and 35 tons of trash each day. The expansion was expected to extend the landfill’s life by 20 to 80 years (to between 2014 and 2074).

Any future expansion of the landfill became impossible in 1997, when the Indiana Department of Environmental Management announced a rule prohibiting landfills from operating too close to municipal wells — and the wells serving the city of Huntington were too close to the landfill’s unused acreage.

City residents took part in an organized recycling program beginning in 2002, when Pathfinder Services was hired to provide curbside pickup of recyclables. That reduced the amount of trash going into the landfill by an estimated 30 percent, but the arrangement lasted only six years.

Pathfinder made a profit by separating and selling the recyclables. When the value of the recyclables dropped so low that the organization could no longer make a profit, it ended its arrangement with the city in December of 2008.

City (and county) residents could continue to recycle, but had to take their recyclables to one of several drop-off sites. That program continues, and a curbside recycling program became available once again to city residents in January of 2018, when the city hired a new company to provide curbside pickup.

With the resumption of curbside recycling, city planners estimated that it could reduce the amount of trash going into the landfill by up to 9 percent, depending on the level of participation.

Prior to the start of the 2018 curbside recycling program, the landfill was expected to remain viable for another three to six years. Recycling, planners believed, could add an extra year to the landfill’s life.

Probably the biggest hit to the landfill life was the decision to accept out-of-county trash, in response to plans by Nature’s Fuel, a Fort Wayne-based company, to build a $350 million plant at the landfill to transform solid waste into fuel.

Negotiations with Nature’s Fuel had started in 2008 and a groundbreaking was held in 2012. The project never happened, and the city ended its agreement with Nature’s Fuel in early 2014.

But believing that the plant would need access to large quantities of solid waste, the landfill began inviting out-of-county haulers to bring their trash to Huntington.

Out-of-county waste deposited in the Huntington City Landfill went from 3,073 tons in 2009 to highs of 27,850 tons in 2011 and 26,559 tons in 2012, eclipsing the amount of in-county waste in both of those years.

Combined with in-county trash, the landfill was accepting 175 tons of solid waste each day during those two years — about five times the amount deposited in the landfill in 1994. A major fee increase for out-of-county trash haulers in 2013 reduced the amount of out-of-county trash coming in by 72 percent. The landfill stopped accepting all out-of-county trash in 2016.

The city ended its agreement with Nature’s Fuel in 2014. The 91,144 tons of out-of-county trash accepted between 2009 and 2015 cut the landfill’s life expectancy by an estimated 12.7 years.