The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has recommended the expansion of four landfills in Twin Cities to increase capacity for millions more tons of trash expected in coming years from metro-area residents.
The expansions would allow for landfills in Burnsville, Inver Grove Heights and Shakopee to grow their municipal solid waste capacity by a combined 5.6 million tons over the next seven years.
"We generate roughly one ton [of garbage] per household, per year," Peder Sandhei, the agency's principal planner, told the Star Tribune. "When you add up the 3.5 million people in the metro area, that's a lot of waste."
The MPCA has long urged Minnesotans to recycle more and reduce waste, designating landfills as the least desirable way to get rid of trash. But officials now say they have little choice but to pursue more capacity.
John Linc Stine, MPCA commissioner from 2012 to 2019, said the expansion plans should be a "wake-up call" that the Twin Cities is still producing far too much garbage. "We're not anywhere close to the day when we don't need landfills,” he noted.
As reported by the Star Tribune, the state agency's recommendations are preliminary, and several other processes must take place before expansion can occur.
The expansion recommendation would provide more space at two landfills that already take household waste: an additional 2.4 million tons of capacity at Pine Bend Sanitary Landfill in Inver Grove Heights, which is owned by Arizona-based Republic Services, and space for 1.7 million more tons at Burnsville Sanitary Landfill.
Two other south metro landfills that accept only industrial and demolition waste would be allowed to take household garbage for the first time. Dem-Con near Shakopee would be able to take 628,000 tons of household waste, and Rich Valley in Inver Grove Heights could accept 894,000 tons.
Julie Ketchum, spokeswoman for Waste Management, said she hopes the MPCA's regulatory process moves quickly because space is dwindling at the Burnsville Sanitary Landfill. She estimated it has just 18 to 20 months of capacity left.
While the landfill expansions have been deemed necessary by MPCA officials, the potential landfill expansions have not come without controversy about the facilities' size, odors and operations.
Bloomington Mayor Tim Busse wrote a letter to the MPCA detailing concerns about the Burnsville Sanitary Landfill's expansion, including its effect on the nearby Minnesota River and the adjacent wildlife refuge area. Busse also suggested the MPCA prioritize environmental justice, the idea that environmental burdens should be distributed evenly rather than concentrated in poorer areas. In this case, the Burnsville landfill is near areas where residents have lower incomes, he said.
During the public comment period on the expansion plans, many residents also voiced environmental concerns and the landfill's location in the Minnesota River Valley as the reason for their opposition. Some suggested building more facilities to turn waste into energy. Others said they resented having to take refuse from other cities.