Garbage trucks pulled into the transfer station to drop off trash and recycling, tractor trailers sat in waiting to haul it away and trucks came to pump the liquids that run through the landfill out of the holding ponds to be taken offsite for filtering.
"Most people don't think about what happens to all their garbage," said Jeffrey Topper, county deputy director of public works."It's quite an operation," he said.
Eight members of Commissioner Doug Howard's solid waste work group met at Northern Landfill in Westminster Tuesday for a comprehensive tour of how the county handles its solid waste.
Howard, R-District 5, formed the solid waste work group in March, asking the members to evaluate options for alternatives to a waste-to-energy incinerator. While the group has had guest speakers with a range of backgrounds and specialties concerning solid waste, the group wanted to visit the landfill to become more familiar with the landfill operations, said Karen Leatherwood, a co-chair of the group.
Some of the members had never visited the landfill, she said, and few had toured it to the extent that the group did Tuesday.
Topper said he and the other staff members were happy to oblige.
Climbing in and out of a van at various stops, the group got to see where liquid that drains out of a full section of the landfill is pumped out and the back of a monstrous landfill section and the monitoring wells that dot its surface. They got a view of the active Cell No. 3 from above and the topography of future Cell No. 4.
Northern Landfill was designed to have four containment cells, or lined segments of the landfill, with a fifth capping cell, Topper said. The cost of preparing a new cell is about $15 million, he said, so the county tries to use all of its space as efficiently as possible.
Under current operations, the county is putting about 15,000 tons of solid waste, or 15 percent of the annual total, into Northern Landfill. That 15 percent is mainly construction and demolition debris, Topper said.
The remaining 85 percent, which is made up of residential and commercial waste, is dumped by collection trucks at the landfill's transfer station. A loader pushes the dumped waste into a pile, where a track hoe picks it up and drops it into the back of a tractor trailer to be shipped to a landfill in Pennsylvania, said Dwight Amoss, county solid waste manager.
At the current rate, the county will be able to use Cell No. 3 until 2038, Topper said.
"This has essentially become for us a back-up plan," he said of the landfill.
The county pays $55.08 per ton of trash that gets hauled out of the landfill, he said, and collects $62 per ton in tipping fees from haulers that bring the trash to the landfill.
That $7 of profit per ton goes toward running all of the operations for the county's solid waste program, Topper said, such as capturing and burning methane from the landfill and collecting the liquids that come out of the bottom of each landfill cell, called leachate, which is taken to the Westminster Wastewater Treatment Plant to be processed.
The county also has to continue to manage all of its inactive landfills, such as John Owings Landfill near Hashawha Environmental Center, Topper said.
"The county has a liability for years and years," Topper said. "You're never done."
Group member Greta Boylston told Topper she had learned a lot from the tour and planned to be in touch with him with more questions.
"I've got to think on some of this," she said.