Where Does My Garbage Go?
To understand why waste prevention and recycling are important, let's look at what it takes to deal with garbage. Here's the Snohomish County story of garbage that seems to just "go away" when dumped in the can!
Thirty years ago Snohomish County residents and businesses threw their garbage into uncontrolled dumps, wetlands, or even Puget Sound. They didn't know how much this would harm groundwater, air, soil, wildlife, vegetation, and human beings.
Then, new awareness of the environment resulted in specially designed landfills, with bottom liners and other features that reduced the impact of garbage on the surrounding area.
The Cathcart Landfill, built by Snohomish County in 1980, was an innovative, state-of-the-art, new type of landfill. Located off Highway 9, south of Snohomish, Cathcart attracted solid waste specialists from all over the world to see who wanted this new technology.
In June of 1992 the Cathcart Landfill reached capacity and stopped accepting garbage or “solid waste.” The landfill had grown from a carefully engineered hole in the ground to a well-managed hill of garbage reaching 90 feet high. After closing, the landfill was capped with plastic-high-density polyethylene. This “cap” liner was covered with compacted clays mixed with compost and then hydro-seeded.
Although garbage is not accepted at the Cathcart Landfill anymore, the Solid Waste Maintenance crews still operate from the site. Cathcart also remains the base for Solid Waste Operations and the Environmental Services staff.
A New Plan
In the early 80’s, knowing that Cathcart would reach capacity and close, the County began the difficult process of siting and constructing a new landfill. Property was purchased next to the Cathcart Landfill and a new landfill was ready for operation in 1992.
However, by 1992, the County had decided to send its waste to a landfill outside the area. This process, called “waste export,” was very new and its reliability not yet proven. Therefore, Snohomish County decided to keep the Regional Landfill as an emergency backup facility.
Since March 1992, Snohomish County waste has been sent to the Roosevelt Landfill in Klickitat County. The waste export contract Snohomish County has with the Regional Disposal Company (RDC) runs through the year 2013.
Because Waste Export has proven to be successful, the County sold the new landfill property in 2005.
Your garbage now goes through seven steps.
- First, a private hauler picks up garbage from the curb or dumpster and loads it into a garbage truck. Some people haul their own garbage to a transfer station or rural drop box.
- The private hauler takes the garbage to one of three Snohomish County transfer stations located in Everett, Arlington, and Mountlake Terrace. County Operations staff pick up waste from rural drop box sites and transport it to the North County Recycling and Transfer Station in Arlington.
- At the transfer station, the garbage is tipped, compacted into a cube weighing 27-30 tons, and pushed into a shipping container.
- The shipping container of garbage is then trucked to the RDC Rail Loading Facility in Everett.
- Every day the shipping containers are loaded onto a train and carried 360 miles to the small town of Roosevelt on the Columbia River (see map). The trip takes about 12 hours.
- The shipping containers are removed from the train in Roosevelt and loaded onto trucks.
- The garbage is trucked to the nearby Roosevelt Landfill and unloaded, and the empty containers are returned for re-use.
On an average, 60 shipping containers or 1,500 tons of Snohomish County garbage go every weekday to the rail facility for export to southeastern Washington.
Roosevelt Landfill is lined with compacted clay and high density polyethylene, to prevent "leachate" from contaminating the groundwater. Leachate is the result of rainwater leaching pollutants out of the garbage. The leachate is collected through a plumbing system installed throughout the landfill.
Methane gas, produced by decomposing garbage, is also collected through a similar system. One hundred percent of this gas is used to produce electricity at the Klickitat County P.U.D. powerhouse. Eight megawatts (enough electricity to service 72,000 homes) are generated from the methane at this time and more generators are planned as the landfill grows.
The garbage is dumped into "cells," or sections, to manage leachate and to organize the unloading procedure. Every day the garbage is covered with soil to eliminate odors and to discourage seagulls, rodents, and other scavengers.
The Roosevelt Landfill property covers 2,545 acres (2.5 times the size of Lake Stevens or 10 times larger than Green Lake in Seattle). As of October 2005, there is capacity for an additional 92 million tons (46 years worth of garbage) as currently permitted.
We need transfer stations that can safely and efficiently handle the large amount of recycling and garbage generated throughout the county.
A new, updated transfer station called Airport Recycling and Transfer Station (ARTS), is located at Paine Field, South Everett.
The Mountlake Terrace Transfer Station (SWRTS) has been remodelled into a larger, more efficient facility at the existing site, with an increased emphasis on recycling.
The Arlington Transfer Station (NCRTS) continues to serve north county customers.
Recycle, Reuse, and Prevent Waste
As you can see, a lot goes into handling Snohomish County garbage. Human time and labor, fuel, money, materials that produce trucks and trains, and other types of energy are consumed to transport this solid waste. What is really wasteful is when recyclable or reusable items are just dumped in the garbage.
Sending recyclables like aluminum, glass, newspapers, cardboard, mixed paper, scrap metal, yard clippings, pop bottles, and milk jugs all the way to Klickitat County wastes landfill space and natural resources. These resources could be recycled again and again into new products instead of being buried in the landfill.
Reusable things are also disposed of needlessly. People throw out bicycles, clothes, books, furniture, and many household items that could be donated to thrift stores, sold at garage sales, or given to others who could use them.
Re-using keeps perfectly good items out of the landfill and helps others. It also extends the life of the things, thus better using the natural resources that went into making them.
Avoiding wasteful packaging or poor quality items that break is also important. Use sturdy durables instead of disposables. Filling up our landfills with "convenience" items or with unnecessary packaging is truly a waste.
These are crucial reasons for choosing to prevent waste, reuse, and recycle.
How You Can Get Involved
You can help keep the environment healthy and save taxpayer money by learning the basics about solid waste and encouraging others to consider issues and solutions. These choices will affect the quality of life for you and your family, and for many generations to come.
Here are some good questions to ask yourself:
- What can I do at home and work to prevent waste?
- What more could I recycle?
- What gets in the way of taking these actions and how could I solve this?
Residents are welcome to attend Solid Waste Advisory Committee (SWAC) meetings. The SWAC advises Snohomish County on all aspects of solid waste management, and reviews proposed plans and policies.
For more information, please see our available brochures about waste disposal, recycling and waste prevention, composting, and hazardous waste.