From time to time, I will share some significant decisions made by the commissioners or interesting facts about the county government, particularly the areas under the purview of the Commissioners’ office, that you may also find helpful.

Today’s topic is the Elkhart County Landfill. As of today, the total space permitted in the landfill is 13.5 million tons. The question of concern to a County Commissioner related to the landfill is: What is the life of our landfill?

Interestingly, the life of our landfill depends on three areas: The cost/rates of bringing trash to the landfill, the economic vibrancy of our county and the management of the landfill. All three will be explored here.

If your county landfill rates for disposing of trash are better/lower than other landfills, consumers (including contracted haulers for cities and manufacturing companies to personal disposal by private individuals) will choose the cheaper route and more trash comes to our landfill, including from outside of our county. This decreases the life of the landfill. There is a delicate balance of keeping the rates competitive, slowing the rate of trash incoming and penalizing the local taxpayer who would like to dispose of trash locally economically and conveniently.

As companies are robust in Elkhart County, the landfill sees an uptick in industrial trash, mostly from the RV industry. The industry would like to do more recycling, but it’s just not cost-effective at this time compared to the value of the space at the landfill and the speed by which they are producing product. The more industries are doing better, the more trash they create for the landfill. If the cost of dumping the trash is more cost-effective for manufacturers than recycling, then economics dictates that the trash will come to the landfill. All recycling, whether industry or residential, is not currently cost-effective. Yet, clearly, many residents want to recycle.

However, in the landfill business, recycling does very little in the big picture of extending the landfill’s life. But, don’t fear, if you feel recycling is your duty, the concept is not likely going away.

In 2016, we were averaging 100,000 tons of trash annually which would have given us 135 years of space. In 2017, we had 175,000 tons, which would give us 77 years left. In 2020, we took in 250,000 tons of trash. With the private landfill on CR 26 nearing its capacity and will soon be closing in the coming years, we can project that our annual volume will increase possibly to 640,000 tons per year, allowing us only 21 years remaining in the life of the landfill. It’s debatable we can even physically handle that much trash annually. Figuratively speaking, we would be buried in trash.

One way to mitigate and help control volumes is with the rates. We don’t want to be the most expensive, yet we don’t want to be so cheap that adjacent counties are bringing their trash to Elkhart County instead of using the landfills in their county. Thus, we need to stay competitive in our rates.

You might ask, why don’t we charge more for those trucks coming from outside the county? We can do this for private individuals, but this can be difficult to ascertain with the commercial trucks who may be contracting with local cities or companies for trash service.

Managing trash is the job of the Director of Landfill Operations. Their job is to manage the site to keep trash from blowing around, fire from developing on the site, and efficiently managing the space for our future. The Landfill Director meets with the County Commissioners often to brief them of any issues and continually works on plans to provide for a long future for landfill operations.

Did you know?

• All Uncovered loads will be fined by the gate attendant or county sheriff’s deputy per county ordinance with fines up to $250.
• No fee trash is accepted on Wednesdays only; 3 bag limit. No size or weight limit on the bags. The number of bags is enforced.
• County landfill on CR 7, north of CR 26, is open from 7am-4:45pm, Monday-Friday. Must be out by 5pm. April-November, Saturday hours are 9am-11:45am, must be out by Noon.
• Leaves can be disposed of at no charge; both residential and commercial.
• Electronic waste (computers, TVs, stereos): $10 per item
• Regular residential trash: $40/ton or a minimum of $20 for Elkhart County residents and any resident in a county adjoining Elkhart County. All other locations will be $100/ton.
• No hazardous waste accepted. This also includes car batteries, liquid waste, appliances with coolant, and larger propane tanks. Camping propane tanks accepted.
• No tires are allowed in the landfill unless they are cut into fourths or shredded (state law).
• The landfill has an HDPE 60 mil. liner (plastic) at its base and along the sides, and when it will close someday on into our future, it will be like a giant ziplock bag that keep any hazards from leaching out and allows us to capture the methane produced by rotting trash.
• The methane gas from the county’s landfill that is captured is transported via pipe to the Elkhart County Jail to heat the water and building, saving the taxpayers approximately $225,000 annually in utility costs.
• The first Saturday of the month, 8am-3am, the landfill hosts a hazardous waste collection site, at the utility building of the county jail off of CR 7, south of the landfill.
• One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, but no scavenging is allowed inside the landfill.

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