Yard waste may no longer be mixed in with trash as Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Secretary Collin O’Mara approved an order opening an additional section of the Kent County landfill at Sandtown.

Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Secretary Collin O’Mara on Feb. 5 approved an order opening an additional section of the Kent County landfill at Sandtown, a move expected to add almost 20 years to the facility’s lifetime.

O’Mara also prohibited users of the landfill from including yard waste such as leaves, branches and cut grass with their household garbage, saying such material should be recycled instead of being thrown away as trash.

Combined with a similar ban in New Castle and Sussex counties this means approximately 80,000 tons of yard waste won’t be added to landfills, O’Mara said in a statement announcing the decision.

“Keeping yard waste out of landfills moves Delaware toward its recycling goals and postpones the need for construction of new landfill sites,” O’Mara added.

However, there seems to be some ongoing misunderstandings when it comes to O’Mara’s order, said Michael Parkowski, who manages business services and governmental relations for the Delaware Solid Waste Authority.

“We’ve gotten a fair amount of calls on this,” Parkowski said. “It’s a misconception that you can’t take yard waste to the Sandtown facility. You can. The ban means you cannot mix it with your trash.

“You can bring in branches and grass, and that’s fine. We’ll accept it, but we don’t put it in the landfill. We’ll compost it,” he said.

Opened in 1981, the Sandtown landfill is just a short distance east of the Maryland border on Route 10. Currently, approximately 103 acres of the 834-acre site are being used for trash disposal. O’Mara’s order opens up an additional 59.7 acres, leaving approximately 671 acres open for future development.

It is estimated the new acreage can hold up to 16.7 million tons of solid waste.

Opening the new section of the landfill means a continuation of practices meant to minimize the facility’s impact on the environment, Parkowski said, adding that landfills today are much more complicated than the old garbage dumps of years gone by.

“We used to just dig holes and throw trash in them,” he said. “Now, there’s a lot of engineering that goes into a landfill.”

Current landfills are lined with sheets of plastic-like material intended to keep possibly hazardous liquids and other materials from contaminating underground water supplies, Parkowski said.

Pipes carry any liquid away for processing, while combustible gases such as methane are collected and burned, creating a small amount of saleable electricity as a byproduct, Parkowski said.

When part of a landfill reaches capacity it is sealed and capped with dirt and grass and engineers continue to monitor it for any leakage. The Sandtown landfill has six approved disposal areas, or cells, of which only two still are active. The others have been closed and capped.

The anticipated 17- to 18-year lifespan of the new section of the Sandtown landfill is based on a number of factors, Parkowski said.

“We give estimates based on population growth and what we think the trends will be with trash,” he said. “In coming up with the current plan, we think the yard waste ban will prolong the life of the landfill. If you don’t place yard waste in there, it takes longer to fill up.”

According to a study O’Mara used before issuing his order, the landfill’s estimated capacity and current recycling trends will keep the Sandtown facility active until approximately 2054.

There was essentially no public comment during the development of plans to expand the Sandtown site. Only one member of the public spoke during an advertised hearing on the plan, and that person supported the yard waste ban. A letter to the hearing officer voiced similar support of a no-waste policy through recycling and conservation.

The only opposition to the proposal came from the Nature Society, which voiced concerns over the number of trees that would be lost when the new section was built.

Parkowski confirmed costs to trash haulers and the public will be going up in July, although he said those increases were decided on long before O’Mara approved Sandtown’s expansion.

The price will increase from $61.50 to $80 per ton, the first increase in five years, Parkowski said. The dumping fee for homeowners bringing in material will go from $4.35 to $7.50.

Opened 1981
Total size 834 acres
Amount of land currently in use 103 acres
Additional disposal area 59.7 acres
Additional capacity 17 to 18 years

Email Jeff Brown at jeff.brown@doverpost.com.