In the sanitation business, bigger is better.
On the second day of 1992, Riley County's trash hit the road and was trucked to Hamm Landfill a few miles north of Lawrence. It's been dumped there ever since.
Riley County is one of 11 northeast Kansas counties whose trash -- called "solid waste" by the experts -- is buried in the 400-acre landfill that's the site of a former rock quarry just north of U.S. Highway 24-59.
These days, trash is big business. And to survive in the landfill business, volume is key.
Because of a change in regulations that govern trash disposal, the number of landfills in Kansas that accept municipal solid waste has shrunk from about 110 to about 60.
Some counties have found it's just too expensive to operate landfills under the new regulations. So the dumps have been closed, covered with compacted clay and topsoil and then seeded.
"It's not feasible to operate small landfills," said Jim Cain, director of the environmental services department in Franklin County.
That county's landfill stopped accepting trash in April -- when a number of the new regulations took effect.
What regulations require
If Franklin County had decided to keep its landfill east of Ottawa open, it would have had to comply with the new rules, such as:
- Lining the landfill with a synthetic liner.
- Constructing a system of pipes to collect liquids that leach down through the trash.
- Constructing a system to monitor methane gas.
- Dig water wells and test the water for contamination.
Now private trash haulers in Franklin County and Riley County take trash to "transfer stations" near the old landfills before Hamm trucks the waste to its landfill, which is following the new regulations.
The Hamm Landfill takes in an average of 700 tons daily. Even at that rate, its life expectancy is more than 200 years, according to Charlie Sedlock, the landfill's general manager.
No more landfill
Dan Harden, Riley County public works director, explains that groundwater and capacity problems forced the closing of his county's landfill, which was along the Kansas River about two miles south of Manhattan. The county went shopping for a place to take its trash.
Hamm won the bid. Riley County pays Hamm $23.17 for each ton of trash it hauls the roughly 75 miles to the landfill. The average take from Riley County is about 160 tons a day.
"It's absolutely night-and-day better than what we had before when we were operating a landfill," said Harden, a Kansas University graduate. "I would not recommend this county ever go back to getting into the landfill business."
In Harden's view, the new regulations meant a move out of the dark ages of trash dumping.
"The cost of waste disposal is considerably more than it was 10 or 15 years ago because of that," he said. "But what it has done is forced us to be a lot more environmentally responsible in the way that we take care of solid waste."
New rules mean money
The cost of complying with the new regulations is high -- as much as several hundred thousand dollars for the Hamm Landfill, Sedlock said.
"For some landfills, it meant a complete 180-degree switch," Sedlock said.
At Hamm, it's not been that severe because the company had started work earlier on more environmentally sound practices.
Trash buried at the Hamm Landfill in the past 13 years has eaten away 5 percent of its total capacity, according to Sedlock. The old quarry is ideal for a landfill because it has a 140-foot-thick shale floor, Sedlock said; once the L-shaped landfill is totally filled, perhaps it will be a park area.
In addition to Douglas County, the Hamm Landfill accepts solid waste from the following counties: Jefferson, Brown, Marshall, Washington, Riley, Pottawatomie, Dickinson, Osage, Lyon and Franklin. The company is now negotiating with the city of Olathe, according to Sedlock.
For 13 years, Lawrence has hauled its trash to the Hamm Landfill.
More restrictive federal and state regulations that have gone into effect have had little impact here.
"We've been very fortunate in that we had a landfill that meets federal regulations," said Bob Yoos, the city's superintendent of solid waste.
Last year, Lawrence trucked about 48 tons to the landfill. That's grown from about 45 tons five years ago.
But considering the growth in Lawrence, Yoos said, that's not bad. Recycling of yard waste by the city and other materials by the private sector have helped hold down the volume of trash generated in the city.
"It'd be greater than 55 tons otherwise," Yoos said.
The state's view
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment is charged with ensuring landfill operators comply with the new regulations. Bill Bider, director of the KDHE bureau of waste management, says some of the regulations are being phased in through 1996.
"They've made a lot of progress," Bider said of Hamm. ``... There's no landfill out there that's fully in compliance. But a lot of the bigger ones are getting close."
Proper disposal of trash is a nationwide concern, Bider pointed out.
And northeast Kansans are in an enviable position, he said. Costs for disposal at landfills here generally range from $15 to $20 a ton, Bider said. In other portions of the Midwest, they're as high as $40 a ton and on either coast can soar to $100 a ton, he said.
"Somebody's getting rich," he said.