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Modern marvel keeps 'garbage juice' in check at Salt Lake County Landfill

SALT LAKE CITY — It’s a monumental and often smelly task for Salt Lake County Landfill workers to handle all the garbage people dish out on a daily basis.

Sustainability manager Ashlee Yoder said the landfill at 6030 W. California Ave. (1300 South) takes in roughly 1,300 tons of garbage per day and about 385,000 tons per year in residential and commercial collection.

“I was surprised that 2 million pounds of garbage does not smell awful,” Yoder quipped of the hard-to-describe yet pungent odor.

Still, workers face another daunting challenge — managing the “garbage juice.” Yoder described the “juice” as liquid that garbage under the ground produces through decomposition, condensation and mixing with rain and snow. Its technical term is “leachate.”

Workers, Yoder said, pump the leachate out of the landfill at a rate of about 30 gallons per minute and 43,200 gallons a day.

In a given year, the landfill has to manage nearly 7.9 million gallons of garbage juice, Yoder said, but does so with the help of a sophisticated underground drainage system.

It starts with a plastic liner at the bottom, then a layer of gravel or sand above that, which surrounds a network of perforated pipes. “Those perforated pipes act like big straws,” Yoder explained.

Leachate risers at the surface of the landfill pump the liquid into shallow retention ponds.

“We collect this water in the pond, and then from here, it will evaporate,” Yoder said. “That liner is what is chief in protecting the environment from this leachate.”

Yoder said the process keeps the bad water away from the good, which is found naturally in wells that fuel a pond tucked between the current landfill and an old one.

“Now this is home to several migratory birds,” Yoder said, overlooking the pond.

Yoder said the landfill boasts a similar system to pump gases out of the buried trash and funnel them to a power plant, where they are used to produce energy.

As for space, Yoder said the landfill is projected to have room until 2065.

After that, she said Salt Lake County’s garbage will likely have to be transported to another site outside of the county’s boundaries.