Since many people don’t see their garbage after it leaves their homes on a giant truck, it may be that you have no idea what happens at places like landfills, transfer stations, recycling facilities and bottle depots. You may even have images of giant garbage heaps in your mind, from T.V. shots, and believe that to be the sad state of our garbage handling practices these days.
If that’s what you’ve always thought, you’d be very surprised to learn that our waste is actually very complexly managed these days. With all the talk of bad sustainability practices in the media, there’s actually a lot of thoughtful engineering and science that goes into waste management, plus laws to prevent environmental contamination from our collective garbage heaps.
But when a city website talks about a landfill, and then a transfer station and so on – do you know the difference? Do you know where to drop your waste off? Or what your city is doing for your tax dollars to handle waste? We’ll attempt to explain what each of these garbage handling facilities do below.
The definition of a landfill in the modern age, and most municipalities
There are different types of landfills in the world today. You can read about some of the definitions used to distinguish landfills and their operations here. Landfills are different than garbage dumps. While they are technically a giant hole in the ground (some of the time), they are built with systems in place to prevent the off-leaking of harmful gasses and sewage-like water. They also are built with “closure” plans; meaning, after they’re full, they’re monitored for environmental precaution.
A really good primer on the effectiveness and work that goes into building a landfill can be seen in the following video, by Waste Management: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wzo5sv4IrIw
Sometimes, the byproducts of landfills, such as the gasses they produce, can be turned into energy. But other times they’re simply prevented from contaminating the surrounding regions where they’re situated, which is usually near habitable areas.
These days, creative thinkers are coming up with ideas on how to use the land that a landfill once stood on. For example, they can be turned into golf courses, solar farms, or actual farms for growing food (yes, you read that right!). The soil on the landfill might also be used for construction fill, or as burnable fuel, as mentioned above.
The negative side of landfills is that since they are covered up and sealed to prevent odours, little composting can take place. So your fruits, veggies and grass clippings don’t fare well in these environments. That’s a shame, since they are completely biodegradable and could otherwise be benefiting soil all around us, which we need for the growth of new vegetation.
Some landfills, like one in Vancouver, have a commercial composting area. Municipalities, citizens and landscaping companies can then buy the composted material (that was picked up from the city’s green bin program), and use it in gardens or farms.
The definition of a transfer station, and its usefulness to communities
A transfer station is an in-between point for garbage trucks or commercial waste producers to drop off their hauls for sorting and processing, or for moving onto larger transport vehicles, before heading to their final destination (a landfill, a recycling facility, etc.). Since junk removal companies often collect unsorted waste from construction sites, residential homes and commercial spaces, transfer stations are a popular point of drop off. This is where recyclables can be reclaimed, so that as a society, we are producing less waste. It’s also where hazardous materials can be collected, to avoid them being harmful to communities if they produce run-off in landfills.
Transfer stations are also beneficial because they reduce the need for multiple smaller vehicles to transport loose trash. Sometimes they can be compacted at the station, and then taken in larger hauls to where they belong.
Citizens of a community can also drop off waste at these places (often for a fee, but not always). For example, the Metro Vancouver area has multiple transfer stations. The Vancouver Transfer Station allows residents to drop off things like old furniture and wood, food waste and electronics. The city also has a Zero Waste Centre where residents can drop off things like batteries or packaging materials that the weekly garbage pickup won’t cover.
The definition of a recycling plant, and the surprising ways it handles your trash
Many, many items that people throw away are actually recyclable. And this may be surprising. Metro Vancouver has a website with a long list of items you can take in for recycling at different spots around the region. So, next time you’re wondering where your acrylic aquarium or old athletic outfits should go when you want to get rid of them, be sure to check that site first (if you live in the area; your own municipality may otherwise have a similar resource).
A recycling facility, or plant, can refer to an operational building where recyclable materials are first collected and sorted. Similarly, a recycling “depot” usually refers to the temporary sorting spot for these materials. And sometimes, the names of these facilities are even more specific, such as a bottle depot, which would take only bottles, of course.
Recycling facilities can have very impressive technologies and machines that automatically sort through plastic, cardboard and other materials. Here is a video that shows how one of these machines work. And this video shows how large, and how automated, a entire recycling facility can be.
A popular company that takes back bottles and electronics waste in the Vancouver area is Return It. You can read more about them, and what they take, on their website: https://www.return-it.ca/locations/
After these items are collected and sorted, they are sold as materials for reuse in the manufacturing process.
To conclude: your waste has many options!
As you can see from the information above, garbage these days is processed in a highly efficient way, compared to the piles of trash you may have been imagining. Plus, as technologies improve, and as our populations become more educated on best practices when handling trash, we can expect our cities to become even more environmentally friendly – and productive!
Now that you know where your waste goes, if you produce more garbage than your city will pick up for free, you can take it to the transfer station (or landfill) on your own. That idea alone may be motivation to produce less waste in the first place, which is the goal of course!
See related posts on our blog:
- Scrap metal pickup, charity furniture pickup, or pro junk removal? Which service do you need?
- Trash bin rental vs professional junk pickup in Vancouver
- How to donate furniture in Vancouver and beyond