From refuse to re-use
Keith Regan reports on how steps being taken today by IESI’s Seneca Meadows landfill reflect a strong belief in doing right by the community.
The Seneca Meadows landfill in central New York State has a long track record of innovation in the environmental area. That reputation helped attract the interest of IESI, a Fort Worth, Texas, solid waste management firm with operations across much of the US, which bought the landfill in 2003. Two years later, IESI merged with BFI Canada Income Fund.
The new parent company has shown a commitment to extending the environmental leadership of the landfill, which is the largest in the northeastern US, says district manager Don Gentilcore. The landfill accepts 6,000 tons per day of solid waste from New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. In 2007 the landfill secured an extension of its operating permit that allows it to accept 31 million more tons of waste over time and means it will continue operations through at least 2023.
The Seneca Meadows property spreads over 2,600 acres in total, yet only a fraction—about 360 acres—are permitted for actual landfill use. The rest of the land is largely being used for the continuation of the company’s innovative environmental efforts, which include renewable energy generation, environmental education and green business development.
Seneca Meadows has been producing electricity from landfill gas since 1995, collecting methane gas from a series of wells drilled into the capped landfill and sending that gas to an engine that generates electric power. When the plant first opened, it produced 2.4 megawatts of power per hour. Today, it produces 18 MW, enough to continuously power 15,000 to 18,000 homes. Plans call for the plant to be expanded again in 2009 to generate 24 megawatts of power. The methane production facility is the largest of its kind in the Northeast, Gentilcore notes.
The landfill is also turning a mandated wetlands reclamation project into an environmental showpiece. Some 585 acres of wetlands—well above what was required as part of the landfill expansion project—will be restored, and 6.5 miles of trails are being built to create a passive park that will become an asset to other nearby ecotourism attractions, including the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, which is about six miles away. “IESI CEO Mickey Flood really wanted to make it a special project,” says Gentilcore. While most replications require a 2- or 3-to-1 replacement rate, the Seneca Meadows project goes well beyond that. The landfill has a reputation for being a good community partner, he adds, having been named Business of the Year for Seneca County in 2003, and the following year receiving a Congressional proclamation acknowledging its environmental stewardship efforts. Meanwhile, Flood was inducted into the Environmental Industry Hall of Fame in May 2008. “It’s something the company takes pride in, and this project goes right in line with our overall philosophy.”
Acting as a gateway to the trails and replicated wetlands will be an environmental education center that will feature exhibit and interpretive areas and, through a partnership with the local Audubon Society chapter, a hands-on laboratory for high school students to see first-hand how wetlands contribute to the environment. The Audubon Society will staff the center 20 hours per week. “We’ve found that forming those partnerships with local organizations is beneficial to everyone,” says Gentilcore, who has been with the landfill for 15 years, having started as a co-op student while attending the Rochester Institute of Technology.
The nature center building is itself part of the environmental message. The building uses geothermal heating and cutting-edge design and materials for energy efficiencies, and IESI anticipates that the building will receive Gold standard certification from the Green Building Council’s LEED program.
Another feature that makes the overall landfill site unique is the business park being developed with an eye toward tapping into the growing green movement. With the landfill producing a growing amount of non-fossil-fuel energy from its methane generators, the Renewable Resource Park (RRP) is designed to offer businesses a chance to help reduce their carbon footprints and help generate economic activity for the region.
IESI is taking on a new role by acting as master developer of the park—the methane gas plant was moved to the parcel set aside for development when it was expanded to enable businesses to tap into the power and heat sources—and the park’s first tenant is expected to be a hydroponic greenhouse company, H2Grow, which intends to set up 20 acres of greenhouses on the property and use waste heat created by the methane generators to heat them. The company expects to be able to produce some three million pounds of hydroponic peppers annually on the site while creating some 100 jobs in the process. Construction work is expected to begin early in 2009.
Driving economic activity is as important as the green energy and environmental parts of the project, says Gentilcore. IESI is already the fourth-largest employer in the county, with about 160 full-time employees at peak times, giving it a responsibility to help foster economic growth, he adds.
Capping Seneca Meadows’ environmental resume is its status as one of the largest tire recyclers in the country, processing about two million old tires annually. Those tires—many being diverted from landfills and thousands more coming from cleanup projects as older tire dumps are being reclaimed—are chipped and used in place of natural stone in the drainage layer of the landfill cap, which is constantly being expanded as the landfill grows. “We use everything we produce right here on the site,” Gentilcore says. “We try to think about how we impact the environment in everything we do.”