National Harbor, Md. – Waste operations – and landfills in particular – often get a bad rap. But it doesn't have to be that way, said Anthony Creech, section manager of groundwater and geology for Resource International Ltd.
With a little effort to be a good neighbor, landfills and others in the waste industry can help shape and change public perception.
"I personally spend a lot of time at backyard barbecues or dinner parties trying to defend our industry to people who read newspaper articles about horrible landfill operations from other places," he said. "Sometimes you would think I'm evil incarnate for even trying to put up a defense."
Creech spoke on the topic of being a good neighbor at Wastecon in National Harbor, Md., right outside of Washington D.C. in mid-August.
"The bottom line is that we all should do what we can to enhance our image to the public," Creech said. "Every effort we make is a win-win."
Creech said, typically, "good neighbor" policies are driven by regulations. Issues such as odor control, noise control, visual screening and correct stormwater management are done not simply to be a good neighbor to the surrounding community, but also to avoid fines and penalties from the local, state or federal government.
Good neighbors actually take a further step, Creech said, and do things not required of them. For example, the R-Board Landfill in Stafford County, Va., does just that, he said.
The landfill opened up its facilities and started hosting backyard composting classes, free of charge, and the citizens took a shine to the program.
"It's very popular," Creech said. "They do it twice a year and every time they do, it's packed. People love it."
There are now 800 graduates from the program who have diverted an estimated 100 tons of organic material.
"We do it because we want to preserve the landfill for things that can't be recycled or reused," said Julie May, outreach and environmental education director for the landfill.
The R-Board Landfill, operated by the Rappahannock Regional Solid Waste Management Board, also does a great job giving tours, Creech said.
"They are the most aggressive I've ever seen in terms of landfill tours," he said.
The tours are active and interactive, giving those who come to the facility, whether it's a scouting group, elementary school class or a group of adults, a much better experience than normal tours. He said the staff puts bleachers out to walk participants through what happens at the landfill and people can sit and watch a little bit.
"It goes an extra 1,000 miles in describing what all goes into the landfill," he said. "And all it takes is an extra 10 minutes."
The landfill staff doesn't just sit around and wait for people to come to the facility; workers go out into the community, too, with a mobile landfill exhibit. Employees also give talks to elementary schools about waste.
"It's all about demystifying a landfill so it's a not a scary thing, but something that everyone can understand," Creech said.
And when workers discovered what turned out to be a Civil War winter encampment on the landfill property far away from the working face, they turned to the local historical society for help. Workers, along with the historical society members, preserved the location and a park was developed to showcase it.
"The public doesn't really understand what we do," Creech said. "These things don't cost a whole lot, but they go a long way."