On the Mark: A bigger pile is not the best solution

MARK STRAIN

If it wasn’t so wasteful, it would be comical. At the same time that Collier County government is attempting to buy into the advanced bio-medical scientific research field, they are also seriously considering piling our garbage in a 175-foot high mound along main entry roads to our community.

In one instance, the county intends to capitalize on an advanced scientific industry founded on analyzing the very fabric of the human body in the from of DNA and genes while at the same time deciding that the best modern solution we can find to all the trash we create is to simply dump it in a bigger and bigger pile.

Our landfill can be found at the intersection where Interstate 75 turns from its north-south route to the east-west leg that takes it all the way to Miami. That location also connects I-75 to Collier Boulevard and Davis Boulevard, allowing folks who want to visit great access to most of our local area. The landfill has been in this location for decades and has had its good and bad times.

For many years, the stench from all the decaying garbage was overwhelming for miles around, eventually leading to a decision to bring in the equipment and knowledge needed to trap and collect the gas causing the problem as well as better methods to bury and sort the materials coming in.

To the credit of the Solid Waste Department, the current management of the landfill is a testament to good management and making the best use of our resources. The current height allowed for the landfill is 108 feet. That would be enough height to carry our needs for waste disposal into the year 2039.

The new proposal is to expand the height to 200 feet, with actual trash burial up to 175 feet and the rest for facilities to reclaim the methane gas produced by the deteriorating material. Two hundred feet is the height of the highest high-rises along the beaches in our county. Two hundred feet is a mound of trash that will be visible from a far distance. Since the landfill is located along main entry roads to our community, it will be the first landmark visitors will recognize.

It seems odd that with all the scientific advancement available we cannot establish a better way to handle our trash. Landfills are the oldest form of waste treatment and in 1979 the United States alone had 18,500 landfills. Today there are about 3,000. Most of those 3,000 are larger than the facilities of the 80’s and 90’s but the reductions in the number of landfills is still significant in that it occurred at the same time that we were generating 80 percent more trash than ever before. Obviously someone has figured out a better way to handle the problem.

Everywhere it seems but in Collier County.

Our elected officials are dead set on making a significant investment in the bio-medical field of advanced medicine, yet are reluctant to improve our solid waste handling in a similar manner. The bio-medical investment provides others with the money to build and expand their science. An investment in our own governmental solid waste operations would benefit all the taxpayers of Collier County, not only now, but as a basis for the future. We cannot go on building higher and higher mounds of trash forever.

When Collier County kicks back into high development gear, which will happen, the doors have been opened for doubling of the county’s population with the approval of the Rural Lands Stewardship Area (Ave Maria is part of this area). That overall area is 195,000 acres which is mostly owned by a handful of large landowners. With the right incentives, somewhere within that huge area there certainly could be found an area for an alternative solid waste operation, something a bit more sophisticated than just stacking garbage in a pile.

We cannot get there by asking those who make their livelihoods from the landfilling process, whether staff or private vendors, to offer viable alternatives. That would be somewhat akin to asking the fox to guard the hen house. To do so will continue to only generate alternatives that would be financially impossible to assure nothing changes.

If our elected officials feel this 200-foot high pile of trash is a good entry monument for Collier County, maybe we should name it after one of them.

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