Recycling, yard waste, and garbage will not be collected on Monday, May 25, in recognition of Memorial Day. Regular collection is delayed one day for the remainder of the week, with Friday collection occurring on Saturday. 

2020 MPE Landfill Tour

posted 9/4/2018

Welcome to the largest landfill in Iowa! Did you know the average person creates almost four pounds of trash every day? It all starts at your curb! The garbage trucks visit homes and business all over the metro. At your home, an automated arm flips the garbage from the cart into the truck. When the truck is full, it drives here – to the landfill -- to empty the garbage and get back to work. On average, a truck will collect garbage from 900 homes per day.

Although our main business at this location is garbage, we divert materials from going into the landfill as much as possible. This is done by recycling. The most popular recycling occurs in the home - plastic bottles with twist of lids, paper, cardboard, and aluminum and tin cans are the materials accepted in the curbside recycling program. With the popularity of online shopping, cardboard is filling carts more than ever. If that’s the case at your home, have you tried checking out a cardboard drop-off near you?  

Just because something isn’t recyclable in the “traditional” way, doesn’t mean we can’t upcycle it! These bikes were recovered before they made it into the landfill. They will be refurbished and donated back into the community.

If you’ve brought items from your home to the landfill, then this area might look familiar! Not all vehicles are equipped to drive to the working face of the landfill; that’s where the big trucks go. Instead, we direct many people here to drop-off their garbage. Once these containers are full, we take them to the working face, where the garbage is actively being buried, to empty, and then bring them back. On a busy day, these containers will fill up 30 - 35 times! 

Construction and demolition recycling is another way we divert material from our landfill. Can anyone guess what that big pile is - that looks like dark soil? It’s ground up shingles! When we get shingles, we grind them until the pieces are very small, such as the pile to the far right. It’s important that we use a magnet to find nails and pull them out of the shingles pile. Those nails go into a separate roll-off where they are recycled with other scrap metal. Once the process is complete, the shingles can be mixed with asphalt and used to make new roads. It’s also used as dust control, making gravel roads less dusty.

Shingles aren’t the only material getting recycled in this area! We also recycle rubble, wood pallets, and scrap metal. Our grinders get a lot of use here! Rubble is ground up and used as base to build new roads at the landfill. Wood pallets are finely ground and used as bedding for animals. You might even see these pallets under the big boar at the State Fair this summer! Our scrap metal is also taken somewhere to be recycled.  

To minimize the amount of time garbage trucks spend on the roads, and to reduce pollution, Metro Waste Authority has two transfer stations. Garbage trucks often visit a transfer station, when they are full, to unload garbage there, instead of driving all the way out here. After they empty the garbage at a transfer station, our staff pushes it into one of these semi-trailers. One semi-trailer can hold the same amount of garbage as almost 4 garbage trucks. Once the transfer trailer is full, it will drive out here to empty at the working face. We currently have 11 transfer trailers that make between 4 and 5 trips to the landfill each day. That’s a lot of garbage!

Here you’re sitting on almost 40 years of years of garbage! This area, Phase 1 of the landfill, closed in 2007. Once an area of the landfill is full of garbage, then a heavy plastic liner is placed on top of the garbage, a layer of dirt is added, and grass is planted on top. The landfill is monitored for 50 years after it’s closure. Up until recently, this was the tallest point in Polk County. If you look to the east, you’ll see that the height of Phase II is now even taller! Both points are taller than that landmark you see far off in the west. That’s right, taller than the Principal Building at 801 Grand! Phase 2 is set to last 54 more years! Then we’ll start on a new phase at this property. 

This entire facility is 1800 acres. 500 acres are dedicated to managing garbage at the landfill; 800 acres are farmed, and an additional 500 acres are home to prairie and wetlands. Metro Waste Authority takes on garbage disposal with a commitment to the environment. One of the ways we do this is through education. The white barn to the south is part of our Environmental Learning Center. This outdoor learning lab is available for teachers and students to come and learn about the environment. Classes commonly typically discuss on water quality, animal habitats, environmental restoration, and more.

#10) As garbage decomposes, methane gas is produced. This gas can’t be released back into the air because it is like the slimey goo in a sci-fi movie. Okay, we’re only kidding, we do capture it, and send it through 10 miles of underground pipe to a facility. There, it is turned into electricity to power over 10,000 homes and businesses.

#11) Methane gas isn’t the only substance produced by the landfill. Leachate is a liquid made when water or snow runs through the layers of garbage. Think of coffee, except the garbage is the coffee grounds and the water is the rain or snow. That will really kick off your morning! No, thanks! You certainly shouldn’t drink the leachate, and we’re very careful of the way we handle the liquid. In fact, we use pumps to pull the liquid out of the landfill. Last year we pumped out over 12 million gallons of leachate. That’s roughly 19 Olympic sized swimming pools worth of leachate!

Another thing we keep out of the landfill is yard waste. When your leaves and sticks are placed at the curb, the truck brings them here. This is why putting yard waste in the right kind of paper bag makes all the difference. The bags are not just regular paper bags; they decompose with the yard waste. After all the material is ground together, it’s placed in rows. The rows of ground up yard waste need moisture, oxygen, and heat in order to become compost. For it to work, we need a variety of yard waste like leaves, branches, and grass clippings. Too much of one ingredient and not enough of another, and the end result won’t be the same. It takes between 8 months to a year to become the final product; Grow Gold Compost, a soil nutrient makes the ground healthier, requiring less water and chemicals. That’s our kind of gardening! 

Here is where we are currently “filling in” at the landfill. This is the last destination for your garbage. As garbage is emptied out of a truck, a dozer spreads it out. Once the garbage is spread, a compactor comes along to flatten it. We want to make sure we get the garbage as flat as possible, so it takes up less space, which helps the landfill have a long, full life. Notice we keep saying landfill instead of dump? That’s because this isn’t your ancestors heap of junk next to the river! A lot of scientific engineering goes into making sure nothing will contaminate the environment around us. The engineering is what makes us a sanitary landfill instead of a dump. 

 Although we are a landfill, we are good neighbors to those around us. To make sure we keep our facility and community clean, we have many cleanup initiatives. Some examples include strategically placed litter fences as well as a litter truck that picks up trash along 163.  In addition, we regularly run this litter vacuum and suck up garbage through the flexible hose!