A new set of environmental regulations due in early October will force cooperation between Kansas counties if the price of trash disposal is to remain reasonable, officials say.
"The result will be better landfills, and it will mean, yes, a higher cost," said Greg Crawford, public information officer for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. "Of course, the cost you'd pay today would be far less than the cost if you'd have to (remedy) pollution."
The Environmental Protection Agency drafted the regulations, and after several years of bickering between EPA and the Office of Management and Budget, Crawford said, the measures will take effect Oct. 9.
They set standards for landfill liners and other systems that prevent pollutants from leeching into groundwater, as well as require groundwater monitoring and fees for development.
The number of landfills across the state should shrink from about 130 to about 35, he said, because dumps in smaller communities will struggle to meet the new standards. Those communities will be forced to seek out partnerships to distribute higher costs among more customers, he said.
"There's a shake-out period where there's going to be a lot of anxious public officials," Crawford said.
Douglas County officials will not be among them. In fact, because of the size and quality of Douglas County's landfill, households here should not see a significant fee hike.
At current disposal rates, the Hamm Sanitary Landfill north of Lawrence will not be full for 400 years and already meets the new regulations, said Charlie Sedlock, waste management manager for Hamm.
"We don't foresee any increase at all," he said.
Several counties use the landfill, including Douglas, Jefferson and Riley. Douglas County accounts for about 75 percent of the waste, Sedlock said.
In conjunction with the new regulations, the state has mandated that counties update their solid-waste management plans.
Douglas County will extend an invitation to Jefferson County for a joint plan, said Frank Hempen, director of Douglas County Public Works.
A team effort makes sense because both counties rely on Hamm, which was built in 1981.
"We don't have the kind of problems that a lot of counties have," Hempen said. "For us it's really almost a paper exercise."
The county wrote its current waste management plan in 1972. Since then, disposal has come a long way.
The plan describes multifamily open dumps with bulky refuse such as refrigerators and plain trash.
"They are usually old, with many cans well rusted, but also newer cans on top. ... These dump sites are located throughout the county, with most of them being in low spots along roads and creeks," it states.
Hempen said the addition of recycling programs and the anticipated household hazardous waste disposal site are recent features that have improved the county's garbage situation.
"We're just really way ahead of the game," he said.