RI’s trash troubles could cost taxpayers

New Landfill Image
RIRRC says landfilling is still the cheapest option. The agency says about 85% of waste in the US is still placed in landfills.

JOHNSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — More than 2,000 tons of garbage from all over the state ends up at the Rhode Island landfill every day.

It’s been piling up for more than 35 years, and now, space is quickly dwindling down.

Michael O’Connell, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation (RIRRC) tells Eyewitness News, the landfill has about 22 years until it’s completely filled.

That might sound like a long time, but in “trash talk,” O’Connell says 22 years is a drop in the bucket.

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Interactive: See the prosed options to deal with Rhode Island’s decreasing landfill space »

“Waste disposal has a long timeline for planning,” O’Connell said. It takes generally five years to determine and assess all the variables, then to sell your idea, and get buy-in from all of the other stakeholders in the state, and then permitting, financing, and actual construction; we’re talking a timeline of 10 to 15 years.”No matter what option they choose

No matter what option they choose you’ll end up paying more. You may think that stinks, but consider yourself lucky up until now.

We dug through the data. According to the RIRRC, Rhode Island towns currently pay a rate of $32 per ton of trash.

That’s one of the cheapest rates in New England and the landfill hasn’t raised that rate in 25 years.

So what are the options? (Story continues below video.)

OPTION 1: Another Location

First, finding another spot in the state to build a landfill. However, because Rhode Island is one of the most densely populated states, RIRRC says there aren’t many areas left to do that.The agency says no municipality has volunteered to put it in their backyard, but even if a town was willing, finding the minimum 500 acres needed is like finding a needle…in a landfill.

Still, the agency plans to conduct a site survey in the next five years. The last survey, back in the 1970s, revealed a spot in the West Greenwich area where the Big River Reservoir was supposed to be built. The land is now protected open space and would have to be taken through the sometimes-tricky process of eminent domain.

However, even if the agency were to find another plot of land, zoning and permitting regulations could force it to trash the plans before it even starts digging.

OPTION 2: Waste Processing Plant

Option two is building a waste processing plant like an incinerator, which would reduce trash to a more manageable size, but it’s pricey. The last processing plant built in the U.S. cost approximately $700 million.

OPTION 3: Shipping Trash

That leads us to the third and most likely option, shipping the trash out of state. O’Connell estimates that would more than double the rate, increasing it by at least $50 per ton.

“In the Northeast, the amount of trash actually outstrips the generation of trash,” says O’Connell. “So there is trash in the Northeast already being exported out of the region.”

With so many waste options on the table, the RIRRC isn’t wasting any time.

“We know in Rhode Island we don’t have that good of a track record on doing big things well,” says O’Connell. “We can’t miss this one. We have to be right on this one.”

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