Landfill, campus facilities promote sustainability

Landfill, campus facilities promote sustainability

Landfill, campus facilities promote sustainability
April 15
23:54 2015

Samantha McDonald / Senior Staff Writer

An old man’s dentures. Naturalization records. Tens of thousands of Corona beer cases.

In southeast Denton, there lies more than 150 acres of land scattered with around 256 tons of trash per day.

But one of the strangest finds in the city’s landfill, manager David Dugger said, was a mannequin whose head of human hair popped when one of the three compactors on site built up enough compressed air within the hollow figure.

“With the hair on it in your own compactor, that’s really hard to distinguish, so it scares you every time,” Dugger said. “I never thought about mannequins until something like that happened.”

While most waste materials end up buried in soil, the team at the ECO-W.E.R.C.S. landfill – short for waste-to-energy, recycling, composting and solar – makes sure to recover items locals have accidentally thrown away, like citizenship papers.

On top of serving the community, the team engages in environmentally friendly practices including methane capture, curbside recycling and recirculation programs. The landfill has placed increasing importance on sustainability efforts since it opened 30 years ago, Dugger said.

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The most common thing brought to the landfill is wood. Wood is sorted and then goes through what is called a Class III composting system. 

“We’re not just your typical receive-and-bury type of landfill or your stereotypical landfill,” he said. “We understand that when it comes to the landfill, we have the last look at the waste before it is buried, and we see ourselves in our programs as more of a materials management or resource management situation.”

Trash into treasure

As with every waste collection process, the cycle is constant.

The Denton landfill gathers trash from universities and schools to businesses and residences. Upon arrival at the site, loads are divided for two sets of workers: the staff and the compactor operators.

While the former is responsible for segregating the trash into their respective areas in the landfill, the operators work on the field, running the compactors for eight hours a day and guiding trucks as they unload the segmented trash, Dugger said.

When the trucks finish their routes, the operators layer the area with dirt to get rid of odors as well as keep insects and wild animals from digging through the trash.

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 Once the trash is dumped, trucks with spiked wheels compact it down and push the trash to different areas. This is an ongoing process and the workers don’t take days off, not even ice days.

The other part of the job rests in sorting through the waste, taking out the recyclables and dropping them off at the landfill’s building materials recovery site. Dugger said the team is able to recycle about 80 to 85 percent of trash per ton received.

“It gives people a place to bring all of their waste locally, so your carbon footprint is smaller, and it helps the environment out that way, which helps the Denton environment especially,” he said.

The landfill uses an enhanced leachate recirculation program where water that enters a trash cell is collected at the pit and sent back via perforated pipes, allowing the water to permeate the cell another time and accelerate the decomposition process, Dugger said.

It also captures methane upon decomposition by sending the gas to a 1.6megawatt generator that produces electricity, which is sent throughout the city’s power grid – a method of clean energy.

Dugger said he has even hosted people from around the world who visit the landfill to see these activities in person.

“We become a learning and a training center for all the people in our area, so that everybody can come in and see what we’re doing, and they can take it back – either do it or change it a little bit – but it encourages them to think about waste in a different way,” he said.

We mean ‘green’

On campus grounds, the governing body for planning and maintenance is UNT Facilities, which works with the city on refuse issues and the pick-up of trash from dumpsters at the university.

Following the result of a 2014 student survey, the team purchased new trashcans and recycling containers.

“The new locations took advantage of building traffic studies and ensured containers were relocated to high traffic areas to ensure greater recycling,” associate vice president for UNT Facilities David Reynolds said. “Results have been positive.”

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The Denton landfill’s busiest day is Monday. The trash collectors go out to the residential areas as well as the corporate areas to collect trash. After trash is collected and brought back to the landfill, it’s sorted. Photos by Hannah Ridings – Staff Photographer

With the help of UNT Sustainability, the We Mean Green Fund and the Office of the Vice President for Finance and Administration, UNT Facilities was able to install 50 sets of solar-powered Big Belly trashcans and recycling containers across campus.

“As a result, we have seen a 25 to 50 percent increase in plastic bottle recycling this year, we have seen less litter in the central portion of the campus and we are spending less time checkingtrash cans to see if they need to be emptied,” Reynolds said.

UNT Facilities also maintains a collaborative relationship with UNT Sustainability through its monthly meetings to review ongoing and potential environmentally targeted projects, Reynolds said.

Their partnership has spanned from the 2011 installation of wind turbines near Apogee Stadium to an upcoming activity involving 50 tree plantings for Earth Day later this month. They are currently working to include LED lighting at Sage Hall as well as Dyson hand dryers and water bottle refill stations in several buildings.

Economics senior Celia Spilotro, who has worked as a UNT Sustainability tour guide for more than two years, said her interest in sustainability grew significantly since she became a student at UNT. She regularly participates in DIY and up-cycling projects, such as converting a cardboard box into picture frames.

“There are so many ways to reuse things once they’ve served their original purpose, and that is not only eco-friendly, but economically responsible as well and can even serve as a creative outlet or practical solution,” she said. “It should be something that works for you and that you can feel good about doing.”

Featured Image: The Denton landfill’s busiest day is Monday. The trash collectors go out to the residential areas as well as the corporate areas to collect trash. After trash is collected and brought back to the landfill, it’s sorted. Photos by Hannah Ridings – Staff Photographer

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