- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 26, 2009

DAYTON, Ohio | Thrift-driven Americans are fixing up, making do and reusing so much to cope with the recession that the drop in throwaways means less fill for landfills.

To deal with the drop-off in drop-offs, landfills are laying off workers, reducing hours of operation and hiking disposal fees, with the increases passed along to cities, businesses and consumers.

“You can look at waste and see what the economy is doing,” said Tom Houck, manager at the Defiance County Landfill in northwest Ohio. He’s watched the amount of trash arriving at the landfill plunge by 30 percent in the past year.

With consumers cutting back on new purchases, there is less packaging to throw away. The downturn in new housing means less waste from construction materials such as insulation and from discarded drywall and lumber. Restaurant waste is down because people are eating out less.

“We’re seeing this all over the country,” said Bruce J. Parker, president and CEO of the National Solid Wastes Management Association.

Environmentalists applaud the trash slash.

“That will mean the landfills will last longer,” said Ed Hopkins, director of the Environmental Quality program for the Sierra Club. “That is good for the public because nobody likes to live next to a landfill.”

Mr. Hopkins said the reduction in waste is good for the environment because even modern landfills can leak, enabling pollutants to seep into groundwater.

Thom Metzger, spokesman for the National Solid Wastes Management Association, said that while national figures won’t be available for months, the association is hearing about the decline from many members.

Landfills in Ohio received 15 percent less waste from August to January than they did for the same period a year earlier. The waste stream at Miramar Landfill near San Diego has dropped 35 percent over the past year. Waste at Puente Hills Landfill near Los Angeles is down from 12,500 tons of trash a day to about 8,500.

About 82 temporary workers have been laid off at Puente Hills and its two sister landfills, shrinking the work force to about 280 and forcing permanent employees to take over traffic control, windy-day litter pickup and landscaping.

Several landfills operated by Waste Management Inc. - which runs about 270 active landfills in 47 states - have gone from operating six days a week to five or have reduced hours of operation, said spokeswoman Lisa Kardell.

Waste Management’s fourth-quarter profit slid 29 percent due to declines in its recycling business and one-time charges. But in its earnings report, the Houston-based company also mentioned drops in the collection of industrial waste.

Landfill operators rely on disposal fees to fund operations. If the amount of waste decreases, operators have to cut costs, dip into reserve funds or increase the fees, which are passed along to consumers.

In the Columbus suburb of Grove City, the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio landfill - with 10 percent less waste - has raised disposal fees by $2 a ton to $35.50 and dipped into its reserve fund. The landfill also is considering accepting trash from out of the district.

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