© GUARDIAN PHOTO BY MARY MACKAY
East Prince Waste Management Facility supervisor Elizabeth Mallett has seen a shift in the type of garbage showing up at the landfill in Wellington, noting that people are trying to find options for the things they no longer want or need.
There’s nothing in the waste disposal rulebook that says a dump has to look like trash.
And things are looking mighty tidy at the East Prince Waste Management Facility in Wellington, which is the site of Prince Edward Island’s only operating landfill that accepts residential and commercial waste.
This is no ordinary hole-in-the-ground landfill operation. In fact, in addition to a landfill like no other, this facility has a state-of-the-art wastewater treatment system, a complex system of recycling and composting and more.
“It’s not just garbage. There is a whole science behind it,” says facility supervisor Elizabeth Mallett.
The East Prince Waste Management Facility, which opened in December 1994, eventually took the place of all regional unlined landfills, including St. Eleanors (which at the time was at capacity), Cardigan and Sleepy Hollow in Charlottetown and 65 community dumps across the province, once the entire province became part of the Island Waste Management Corporation Waste Watch Program in 2002.
“Those were unlined free-for-alls for a long time. They got better as time went on but not to the extent of this (facility). And back then they put everything in — they put batteries, everything. And they used to be in the habit of burning (the waste) every Saturday. That’s how they kept (the volume down),” Mallett says.
At present, the 400-acre facility has five connected landfill cells, with room for one more.
Each cell in this second-generation landfill is specially sloped and layered with less permeable materials, such as brick clay, and then lined with a plastic geo-membrane liner in order to capture any rainwater or snow melt — known as landfill leachate — that filters through.
“We don’t dig because we’re in a swamp area. Some of the big landfills off-Island where they would have a different kind of base to work with, they would go down (much deeper than here). But we don’t have that option here because the water table is high and just the area where we built,” Mallett says.
Instead, a slight depression to a maximum of four metres in depth is made in the ground and then once the entire protective base is put in place, the waste is mounded up on top to a maximum height, which is presently set at 23 metres.
“When we finish off (each) landfill (cell), we cap it with another geo-membrane that doesn’t let the rain and the snow melt go down through it. So eventually this landfill will stop making leachate. Slowly it will dry out,” she says.
That contaminated rainwater and snow melt leachate was previously collected and trucked to other lagoon systems in the province until the facility’s new onsite wastewater treatment system came on track in 2009.
Now, a kilometre-long system of piping that runs through the entire landfill funnels the leachate into two fully lined lagoons.
This first stop is an aerating lagoon, where the wastewater is held for 60 days; the second is a settling lagoon, where it stays for 30 days. The final step of the treatment system is a three-phase constructed wetland that has a retention time of 180 days.
This filtered water is then absorbed into the surrounding natural wetland.
“We test it all the time. And it doesn’t discharge all the time. It only discharges when it’s up to a certain height. In the summer it always evaporates so we can have many days or even months with no discharge at all,” Mallett says.
“(The wastewater treatment system) paid for itself in about three years.”
Traffic to the East Prince Waste Management Facility includes all of the residential waste-hauling trucks in Prince County and commercial loads from businesses, as well as smaller contractors and the public with construction waste. There is a drop-off fee for household and construction waste.
“We do get diversions from the rest of the Island when P.E.I. Energy Systems (energy-from-waste plant in Charlottetown) is on a shutdown or if they have too much waste and they can’t burn it all. But we try to keep to a minimum because it’s an expense to them to truck it into us, so they hold it over if they can,” Mallett says.
Just beyond the weigh scale at the facility entrance is an outdoor separating area where things like paint, metals, appliances, recyclables, batteries, household hazardous waste and more are sorted by people when they drop them off.
The drop-off cost for many of these items is nothing. People can check the IWMC website for a searchable list.
Farmer’s silage wrap can be dropped off at no cost and is shipped to New Brunswick. Plans are also in the works with Ontario-based Clean Farms to develop markets for this product.
Vehicle tires are stored onsite and then loaded by hand into tractor trailers and are transported to various processors in Quebec where they are recycled into products such as doormats and mats for livestock stalls.
Some waste becomes a useful part of the landfill process, too. For example, the bottom ash from the P.E.I. Energy Systems plant is spread as a covering over the layered garbage.
Asphalt shingles and a small storage pile of chipped tires are used to shore up road bases on the landfill in the soppy seasons.
Asbestos and oil-contaminated soil also make their way to the landfill.
The contaminated soil is turned often so that the hydrocarbons can dissipate and then be used as a landfill cover.
A special trench is prepared for asbestos, which arrives wrapped according to safety regulations, and is buried immediately.
The onsite composting facility originally processed organics from much of Prince County from 1994 until the Central Compost Facility in Brookfield came online for the entire province in 2002.
“So (now) we just do problem stocks. They might get a load of potatoes with some hydraulic oil on it (for example).
“And we’d just compost it and use it for cover on our landfill,” Mallett says.
“Actually a few years ago when ADL burned in Summerside we composted all the food inside because there was too much to go to P.E.I. Energy Systems, we couldn’t put it in the landfill because of all the organics in it. So we made windrows in our barn and we composted it.”
Of course, organic waste is a tasty magnet for certain opportunistic creatures that thrive in this type of environment on this form of food source.
A contracted pest control company uses preventive measures, such as baited rodent traps that are monitored monthly, and other control methods if need be.
“Gulls are here all the time . . . . We also have eagles onsite all the time and they kind of keep the gulls in check,” Mallett laughs.
There are also occasional sighting of coyotes, hawks and raccoons that come around to check things out, too.
“(An important fact to note is) there’s not supposed to be food in your black (cart). If you don’t put food in your black can, there’s nothing for them to eat,” Mallett says.
“That impacts our leaching greatly, too, because the food breaks down and it puts an organic load on our leaching and it’s harder to treat.
“So the less food there is in our landfill the better it is for everything. The landfill doesn’t have to settle as much and it doesn’t let off so much landfill gas. It doesn’t have to produce such strong leaching.”
The odour problem is, for the most part, in the past now, except when the odd compost row is turned.
“It was constant. It never went away before, but basically there is no odour when you come in unless they are flipping a row,” Mallett says.
The annual diversion rate from landfill by Prince Edward Islanders’ reusing, recycling and composting is now at 64 per cent.
“I find that the garbage (coming here) has changed over time. People don’t come in with as much because they (sometimes) have to pay for it so I think there are more flea markets and yard sales. Those used to not be as popular as they are now,” Mallett says.
“And when we first started, things like electronics all went in it, they don’t now. There’s more diversion from it every year.”
AT A GLANCE
Island Waste Management Corporation has an online interactive sorting guide that will tell you if the item is free for disposal: www.iwmc.pe.ca/interactivesortingguide.php
Here’s a list of the items that are free to drop off: (R is for residential, B is for businesses)
Sharps/needles, in sealed approved containers (R);
Unused/old medications (R);
Batteries; ie A AA, rechargeable batteries, etc (R&B) Note; Batteries must weigh less than 5kgs;
Electronics; ie TVs, computer monitors, keyboards, telephones, etc (R&B);
Tires, rims removed (R&B);
Cell Phone & Ink Cartridges (R);
Propane tanks/cylinders MAX 30lbs (R);
Fluorescent Light Bulbs (R);
Household Hazardous Waste; ie pesticides, household cleaners, caulking, cosmetics, etc (R);
Bulk Furniture; larger than 4’ no heavier than 50lbs, ie sofas, tables, recliners, mattresses, etc (R);
Clean Silage Wrap (R&B);
Large Appliances / White goods; fridge, stove, dryer, washer, etc. (R&B);
Recyclables - blue bags & corrugated cardboard - free Saturday mornings only (R); Paint (R&B).