Environment & Science

No dumping: State's largest active landfill closing on Thursday

The Puente Hills Landfill will cease dumping on Oct. 31, 2013.
The Puente Hills Landfill will cease dumping on Oct. 31, 2013.
The Puente Hills Landfill will cease dumping on Oct. 31, 2013.
Puente Hills Landfill is filling up...and closing down. The City of Los Angeles has a plan to stop sending any waste to landfills within a couple of decades.
Molly Peterson/KPCC

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Puente Hills Landfill, the largest active landfill in the country, will close its doors. The permit for the site, which is near capacity, will expire after the close of business on Thursday. 

"The landfill has been a solid, solid waste management facility since the 1950s," said Chuck Boehmke, head of the solid waste management department for the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County. "It’s done a big part in keeping solid waste costs down.” 

At its peak, the landfill received more than 13,000 tons of waste each day, making up a third of the county's solid waste. When the recession hit in 2008 and construction slowed, that amount dropped to under 5,000 tons. Since then, officials said the number has climbed to more than 7,000 tons. 

Recycling efforts will continue at the location. In the meantime, the county has contracts to send up to a thousand tons of waste a day to Orange County landfills.

As part of a bankruptcy recovery package, Orange County agreed to import waste from some outside county agencies. Sanitation Districts will begin shipping up to 1000 tons of waste to the Alpha Olinda Landfill each day beginning on November 1. Orange County's bankruptcy recovery is scheduled to end on June 30, 2016. Waste importation contracts will also expire on that date. 

Eventually, Puente Hills plans to send unrecyclable solid waste by train to remote landfills about 200 miles away. Officials anticipate that the program will double or triple dumping rates, costing $60-80 per ton. 

Boehmke said that the closure will have a financial impact on the Sanitation Districts and that staff would be reduced by about 80 employees.

Some, however, are celebrating the closure, citing it as a sign of progress in waste reduction methods.

"We’ve reached a turning point in how we are dealing with solid waste in this country," said Gina Palencar of Don’t Waste L.A. "Why send to landfills and bury what can be recycled and reused?” 

The landfill contains about 130 million tons of solid waste, leaving behind a legacy that is visible from the 60 Freeway.

“It’s a 70-acre, 450-foot-high, tree-covered mountain, made entirely of waste that we have buried over the last 50 years,” Palencar said.

Monitoring at the site will continue for decades, and it will take 12 to 18 months to close down the landfill. Afterwards, it will be converted into a public park.