Taming Mount Rumpke

Residents offer options to landfill expansion

Nov 3, 2010 at 2:06 pm

Some Colerain Township residents are proposing methods for drastically reducing or halting the thousands of tons of trash that's dumped daily into "Mount Rumpke," the landfill nicknamed for its distinction as Hamilton County's highest elevated point.

Colerain Township's Property Owners Want Equal Rights (POWER) and Ohio Citizen Action have banded together for an effort dubbed the Good Neighbor Campaign. Begun on Earth Day in April, the campaign centers on offering alternatives to Rumpke's proposed 350-acre expansion of its regional landfill and adjacent facilities in Colerain.

The proposal is tied up in an appeals court after Rumpke sued Colerain Township trustees for turning down the expansion request, which would grow the current 509-acre site.

Under Rumpke's proposal, the expansion would include 206 acres of new waste disposal space, along with 85 acres of greenspace and 59 acres of light industrial development.

The landfill, one of nation's largest, has been a source of tension for nearby residents for years, with each expansion drawing protests. Since 1945, its footprint has grown to tower above the rest of the county, taking in 2 million tons of garbage annually. Just over half — 56 percent — comes from other Ohio counties or outside states. The company serves 2 million residents, 70 municipalities and 20,000 just in the Tristate region alone.

That's a lot of trash. And regardless of the outcry, Mount Rumpke has continued to rise, taking in the leftovers of our packaged, consumer-driven, throw-away culture.

But this time, Ohio Citizen Action and POWER are doing more than just protesting the proposed expansion: They're offering alternatives they believe will extend the life of the landfill without taking more land, while challenging us to rethink our garbage accumulating ways.

Those ideas are outlined in a 40-page report the groups' recently unveiled The Future is Now: A Citizens' Audit of the Rumpke Sanitary Landfill. It concludes a mix of advanced recycling techniques coupled with entrepreneurial uses for reusable waste — like computers, paper, glass and plastic — could divert at least 50 percent of the trash sent to the landfill. The organizations have also asked Rumpke to drop its lawsuit and "respect the authority of the township and its citizens."

These ideas are actually tried and tested in cities such as Oakland and Fresno, Calif., Dubuque, Iowa, and Austin, Tex., where those cities have made a "Zero Waste Pledge" to drastically reduce waste (from 50 to 100 percent over 5 to 15 years) while boosting recycling rates.

With the right governmental policies and targets in place, that could happen here, says Melissa English, Ohio Citizen Action's southern campaign director.

"The purpose of the report is to present an alternative to expansion,” English says. “The pattern (at the landfill) has been to fill, expand and repeat. We've been in the cycle for 65 years, and people who make decisions have gotten trapped in that mentality. There are communities that are doing this, and we wanted to present alternatives and not just say, 'Not in my back yard.' "

Currently, Rumpke's landfill will reach capacity around 2025. With the expansion, the company says the site could be used for another 30 years, until 2055. But the firm still would be required to contain harmful gases emitted from the site until 2080.

Rumpke officials attended a public meeting last month where the report was unveiled, says company spokesman Jonathan Kissell. Rumpke has had ongoing conversations with both community organizations about the expansion and other issues. Still, Rumpke doesn't think the proposals are realistic and believes POWER only would be satisfied if the landfill was completely closed.

"Several representatives attended the meeting and we are always looking at ways to improve recycling,” Kissell says. “But as a business we must continue to move forward to satisfy the needs of the area. If you take away the landfill and a viable means of disposing of waste, human health would be adversely affected.”

Rumpke is one of the largest recyclers in the Midwest and has upped its efforts in recent years, completing a $6.5 million upgrade in its Cincinnati recycling center in St. Bernard. This year Rumpke announced a partnership with the city of Cincinnati that included larger recycling carts, increased pickup frequency and the ability to earn point for rewards at local businesses through the RecycleBank program. The suburb of Montgomery also participates in RecycleBank.

Rumpke's tech upgrades at the St. Bernard facility also upped the variety of recyclables it can accept like pizza boxes and all plastic bottles and jugs, without lids.

POWER and Ohio Citizen Action hope to continue garnering public support for its recommendations with the goal of pressuring Rumpke into taking further action, English says. Residents and consumers, too, must play a role in lessening the environmental impact of our trash, she adds.

"As long as we can count on what we perceive as a cheap and convenient option in Colerain, things will continue,” English says. “All landfills close and someday we are going to have to come up with a plan for our garbage that does include that landfill.”