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Landfilling a Long Term Commitment; What's the Alternative?

What do you throw away? Do you think about it? Do you care?

Most cities and towns in Iowa put their waste in landfills. According to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, there are currently 42 landfills operating in the state, and there are 50 others that have been closed because they are full.

In 2013, 2.6 million tons of trash was buried in Iowa landfills. 184,000 tons of that trash came from other states, and Iowa sent 76,000 tons of trash elsewhere.

Mike Smith works for the DNR as an environmental engineer and used to be a landfill consultant. He says burying trash is a long-term commitment. “Once we bury that trash, we are responsible for taking care of it,” Smith explains. “We’ve come a long way in regulating and preventing pollution from landfills, but there are landfills in the state that don’t have liners.” That means that leachate, a waste product generated when water seeps through landfilled refuse, could be leaking into Iowa’s groundwater.

During this River to River interview, Ben Kieffer talks with Smith about what happens to our landfills after we close them and how much trash Iowans generate each year.

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Credit Lindsey Moon / Iowa Public Radio
Tim Burns of Hills, Iowa, has been collecting trash for Iowa City for more than 20 years.

Ames is currently one of the only communities in that state that takes an alternative to landfilling. For 40 years now, the city has been burning its trash to generate electricity. A waste-to-energy facility plans to open in January of 2015 in Marion, Iowa, which will be the first of its kind in the country. During the second half of this program, Kieffer talks with Gary Freel of the Resource Recovery Plant in Ames and Craig Stuart-Paul, CEO of Fiberight. 

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Ben Kieffer talks with Mike Smith of the Iowa DNR about Iowa's landfills. Then, a conversation about waste-to-energy technology in Iowa.

Lindsey Moon is IPR's Senior Digital Producer
Ben Kieffer is the host of IPR's River to River