Alpha Ridge Landfill is state of the art facility [Marriottsville/Sykesville/Woodstock]

Most of us seldom think about trash except to remember our curbside pickup days. In Marriottsville, we have familiarity with Alpha Ridge Landfill since it has long been a part of the community, but how well do we actually know this neighbor? Recently, I toured the facility with Operations Division Chief Jeff Dannis.

Alpha Ridge is Howard County's third official landfill. The first, New Cut Landfill, operated in the Worthington Park area of Ellicott City from 1944 to 1980. The second, Carr's Mill Landfill, operated in Lisbon from 1953 to 1977. Alpha Ridge opened in 1980 on 590 acres of farmland.

Currently, the landfill occupies 190 acres. The remaining acreage acts as a buffer or houses other county facilities, such as the James N. Robey Public Safety Training Center and Alpha Ridge Park. Dannis describes the site as a resource management center, complete with salt dome, gas energy generator, radio tower and water towers. Visitors may be surprised to learn that the large flagpole at the site's entrance is not just a patriotic landmark, but also an attractively packaged cell tower.

Alpha Ridge began exporting waste in 1997, and now 98 percent is trucked to King George County, Virginia. The remaining 2 percent consists of street sweepings, mixed waste from the county's Bureau of Highways and plastic bags from yard trim and food scrap collections. These items are buried in a newer, lined cell designed to prevent leakage. A leachate collection system diverts liquid discharge to a storage tank for removal to a wastewater treatment plant.

The older, unlined cell was closed when the new cell opened, but Alpha Ridge collects methane gas from both and converts this byproduct to electricity, which it then sells back to the grid.

The landfill also recycles yard trim and wood waste by grinding it into mulch, which is available for sale to the public, along with compost and topsoil. Anyone — not just county residents — can purchase these gardening products. The cost per cubic yard is $19 for compost, $20 for mulch and $23 for blended topsoil (two-thirds soil and one-third compost). Alpha Ridge now accepts credit cards for these purchases.

Food scrap composting is the landfill's newest venture. Volunteer households in Elkridge and Clarksville have participated in a pilot collection program that has proved successful and will slowly roll out to other areas. The end goal is to have at least 50 percent participation countywide.

Dannis explained that the county is very proud of this program because it is the largest in the state and the only one accepting residential collection.

Alpha Ridge also offers public tours of its Pilot Composting Facility. Upcoming dates are Thursday, July 31 at 4 p.m. and Saturday, Aug. 16 at 9 a.m. Call the main number, 410-313-6444, to register.

Of course, the landfill continues to accept household trash, recycling and furniture free of charge at its Residents' Convenience Center. (Construction and demolition materials cost $65 per ton or $3.25 per 100 pounds.) Visitors must show their driver's license as proof of county residency. For a list of acceptable items, go to http://www.howardcountymd.gov/arl.htm. Call the main number to schedule a bulk pickup.

Goodwill also accepts donations at the landfill on the second and fourth Saturdays of each month, 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., in the gazebo near the entrance. The Howard County Master Gardeners offer free rain barrel workshops in the gazebo on the first and third Saturdays, April through October, 9 to 11 a.m.

Dannis says that Alpha Ridge Landfill strives for transparency and a good relationship with the community. Scouts, school classes and other groups are invited to schedule tours by calling the main number.

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