State to study waste dumped in landfills and incinerators

A refuse truck backs up to dump trash at the Nashua landfill earlier this month. Non-recycled waste, as well as waste generated in the state and waste from neighboring New England states such as Massachusetts, are disposed of in nine enormous landfills spread across the state. These modern-day landfills are engineered with safety in mind. They are lined with low-permeable materials to keep waste from contacting groundwater or soil.

A refuse truck backs up to dump trash at the Nashua landfill earlier this month. Non-recycled waste, as well as waste generated in the state and waste from neighboring New England states such as Massachusetts, are disposed of in nine enormous landfills spread across the state. These modern-day landfills are engineered with safety in mind. They are lined with low-permeable materials to keep waste from contacting groundwater or soil. GEOFF FORESTER

By SRUTHI GOPALAKRISHNAN

Monitor staff

Published: 02-12-2024 5:38 PM

Modified: 02-12-2024 5:44 PM


The public might get a better understanding of what exactly is getting dumped in the state’s landfills and where it’s coming from, now that the Department of Environmental Services has initiated the first comprehensive study of the waste stream.

Set to start in spring, MidAtlantic Solid Waste Consultants LLC will examine the waste disposed at landfills across the state and the incinerator, Wheelabrator Technologies in Penacook.

“It gives more data to work with and to better understand what the composition of the waste stream is and potentially help us guide implementation of the solid waste management plan to focus on what materials are major components of the waste stream that we can better manage,” said Michael Norke, supervisor of materials management, education and planning section at DES.

For municipal solid waste, it will involve sampling 200 to 250 pounds of waste, from disposal trucks or loads, which will be manually sorted and categorized into residential waste, commercial and mixed waste. The study extends its scope to include analyzing construction and demolition debris too.

Out-state trash, making up nearly 50% of the state’s total waste, will also be inspected.

While landfills often keep track of the trucks entering and dumping at the facility, the contents are rarely analyzed. 

As part of the new study, contractors will be stationed at the entrance of facilities to document details of incoming trucks, such as their state of origin and the contents of their load. Sometimes trucks will go through a second process of manual sorting or visual surveying. 

This study is a way for DES to better understand and provide greater transparency about the tonnage of different wastes in landfills and come up with a plan to divert waste from landfills and incinerators.

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Although the sampling will not be continuous across all of the state’s disposal sites, it will span several weeks at each facility. The data will be statistically modeled to glean insights into the composition of waste, said Norke.

After the first sampling in the spring, there will be another in the fall to account for seasonal variations.

The contract calls for 26 gate survey days, 260 municipal solid waste manual sorts and 620 construction and demolition debris visual surveys.

The report on the waste study is expected to be released in March 2025.

While neighboring states such as Vermont and Connecticut have long conducted studies of their landfills, this marks New Hampshire’s inaugural effort.

It has been made possible through the bipartisan infrastructure law, which allocated a grant of $295,500 to the state. The contract was approved by the Governor and Council on Jan 31.

“We’re not alone here. A lot of other states just haven’t had the funding or the resources to be able to pursue these kinds of studies,” said Norke. “Right now we have money to do it. I’m not sure that there will be an appropriation by the state legislature to do these on a pe riodic basis.”