The Ocean State’s garbage cans empty into Johnston. But how long will Johnston remain Rhode Island’s dump?
Estimates for the landfill’s lifespan are shifting.
The Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation (RIRRC), a quasi-public agency, operates the state’s Materials Recycling Facility, Leaf and Yard Compost, Eco-Depot and Central Landfill in Johnston.
Previous estimates pegged the landfill’s closure date somewhere around 10-12 years from now. Following the pandemic, changes in trash disposal behavior and coordinated efforts by the landfill to reduce commercial waste, the estimate for landfill closure has been delayed — possibly to 2040.
“Much progress has been made since 2018,” said Jared Rhodes, spokesman for Resource Recovery. “The biggest of course being the extension of the landfill’s projected life expectancy by an additional six years.”
A July 2018 report published by Resource Recovery warned future planners that they should be looking for trash disposal alternatives by 2022.
“At some point the Central Landfill will reach its ultimate final capacity and, by that time, an emerging technology may have proven itself at the capacity and reliability to install at a future Corporation facility,” according to the report. “Given the extended design and permitting timelines, at the point when the Central Landfill has only 10-12 years of capacity remaining (2022-2024), the Corporation must make a decision regarding the future primary disposal technology for solid waste management in Rhode Island. It cannot be stressed enough that time is of the essence and the Corporation will need to make their first major decision within the next 4-6 years.”
That time has come.
However, landfill officials have no immediate plans for the site.
“Those figures were the best estimate at that time,” Rhodes said.
Ocean State residents seem to be throwing less away in the past few years. RIRRC would like to share the credit for changing behaviors.
“This extension was no accident but was rather the result of a concerted three-year corporate effort to significantly reduce the amount of commercial waste received,” Rhodes said. “At the same time work continues to identify additional means for diverting materials from the landfill.”
When asked if Resource Recovery officials have made any "major decisions" regarding "the future primary disposal technology for solid waste management in Rhode Island,” Rhodes said “the corporation has not, given the extended horizon that is now presented and instead is analyzing near-term diversion opportunities while monitoring the evolution of longer-term disposal alternatives.”
“Rhode Islanders should not expect any decisions on post Central Landfill disposal alternatives to be made anytime soon,” said Rhodes, who serves as Director of Policy and Programs at the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation.
The Johnston Sun Rise submitted a request to interview the corporation’s Executive Director Joseph Reposa. The request was denied.
“Resource Recovery respectfully declines the interview invitation but would be happy to try and answer any specific questions you would like to forward via email,” Rhodes said via email.
Johnston Mayor Joseph M. Polisena echoed the optimistic forecast for the landfill’s future.
“The landfill’s not going anywhere,” Polisena said last week. “We need to make the best of a not good situation.”
Polisena said that although previous estimates predicted the landfill would close within 12-15 years, “I personally think it’s gonna be open 15-18 years.”
“But then the economy crapped the bed, and now people aren’t throwing as much away,” Polisena said.
Rhodes confirmed that Rhode Island residents seem to be throwing away less in recent years.
“Loading rates for the current year are forecasted at 616,000 (tons) and 2040 is still the current closure estimate,” Rhodes said, explaining that “landfill loading rates have since decreased however resulting in the current 2040 estimate.”
The initial closing date of 2034 was based on the “disposal rate of about 1,000,000 tons per year (TPY),” when the landfill’s Phase VI expansion was projected to reach full capacity.
“The original design full capacity date was 2038, which was based on a disposal rate of 750,000 TPY,” Rhodes said.
“Regarding the life expectancy of Rhode Island’s Central Landfill, please know that the corporation projects that it will not reach capacity until at least 2040 or 19 years from now,” Rhodes said. “That being said, the corporation continues to examine waste processing and disposal alternatives that may benefit the state between now and then.”
The RIRRC currently has an annual budget of $67,700,000 and employs 142 total personnel, according to the Rhode Island Secretary of State. The Central Landfill, located on 1,200 acres on Shun Pike in western Johnston, provides disposal service to approximately 96 percent of the state's residents. The RIRRC's Material Recycling Facility, also in Johnston, is the largest in the northeast region of the United States, and processes around 100,000 tons of recyclables annually.
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