February 3, 2013

State’s Largest Landfill A Huge Expanse in Central Iowa

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The Phase 1 disposal area of Metro Park East Landfill opened in 1972 and closed in 2007. “While no one knows the exact amount of time will be needed to maintain it, we are committed to doing what is necessary to protect the environment even if the timeline exceeds 30 years,” Reo Menning, the public affairs director of Metro Waste Authority, said. (IowaWatch/Sujin Kim)

The Phase 1 disposal area of Metro Park East Landfill opened in 1972 and closed in 2007. “While no one knows the exact amount of time will be needed to maintain it, we are committed to doing what is necessary to protect the environment even if the timeline exceeds 30 years,” Reo Menning, the public affairs director of Metro Waste Authority, said. (IowaWatch/Sujin Kim)

Reo Menning is giving a reporter a tour of Metro Park East Landfill, Iowa’s largest landfill and looking over the expanse when she brings up the fact the they are standing on 30 feet of compacted garbage.

That’s the result of taking in 1,700 tons of waste each day during the six days the landfill is open each week, for a grand total of almost half a million tons of waste annually from fiscal 2003 through fiscal 2012.

For perspective: that is a little more than 17 percent of the state’s waste.

“What we receive can vary day to day and is affected by seasons,” said Menning, public affairs director for the Metro Waste Authority that runs the huge landfill, whose 1,800 acres could hold 2,380 football fields.

The Phase 1 disposal area of Metro Park East Landfill opened in 1972 and closed in 2007. “While no one knows the exact amount of time will be needed to maintain it, we are committed to doing what is necessary to protect the environment even if the timeline exceeds 30 years,” Reo Menning, the public affairs director of Metro Waste Authority, said. (IowaWatch/Sujin Kim)

The Phase 1 disposal area of Metro Park East Landfill opened in 1972 and closed in 2007. “While no one knows the exact amount of time will be needed to maintain it, we are committed to doing what is necessary to protect the environment even if the timeline exceeds 30 years,” Reo Menning, the public affairs director of Metro Waste Authority, said. (Sujin Kim/IowaWatch)

Garbage is dumped in about 500 of those acres. Metro Park East Landfill, which opened in 1972 at Mitchellville, is one of 44 municipal solid waste sanitary landfills in Iowa. It serves all of Polk County; Urbandale, which is partly in Dallas County along with Polk County; and Norwalk, which spills from Polk County into Warren County.

Menning said about 73 percent of the waste is from businesses. After waste is dumped, it is compacted and covered with 6 inches of soil in order to prevent it from blowing away. This also controls odor. Methane gas, produced by the decomposition of garbage, is collected through a system of 127 wells drilled in the landfill.

But it does more than just control emissions into the air. The gasses are sent to the Metro Methane Recovery Facility, which opened at the landfill in 1993 in collaboration with MidAmerican Energy and Waste Management Inc., for conversion into electricity.

Leachate, the liquid produced when rainwater seeps into and through the waste, is collected through a leachate collection piping system and treated by the Metro Waste Authority’s Constructed Wetlands Treatment Facility.

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This IowaWatch story appeared in The Des Moines Register, The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, IA), the Quad-City Times, Iowa City Press-Citizen, dmjuice.com, the websites for the Altoona Daily Herald, Indianola Record-Herald, Indianapolis Star and Asheville Citizen-Times.

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