Theodore Roosevelt set aside 150 million acres of timberland as public domain during his presidency. In the hundred years since then, the American landscape has become a web of paved roads with sprawling urban areas, while untouched land is absent. It is more important than ever to restore native habitat to protect water quality, air quality, and species diversity.
At first glance, a landfill is unsuitable for wildlife habitat. The Audubon Society doesn’t agree. In fact they recently announced a partnership with Waste Management to restore wildlife habitat at Two Pine Landfill in North Little Rock, AR.
“The Audubon Society realized that we can’t take for granted one acre of land or water anymore,” said Ken Smith, Executive Director of Audubon Arkansas. “We really have to look at conservation within our communities. The idea of restoring habitats and working with companies like Waste Management on a landfill is not that far fetched, particularly when you look at the opportunities at Two Pine Landfill.”
Vision for Two Pine
The entire 500 acres will be under some sort of wildlife restoration regime, with air and water quality and native species as top priorities. An inactive section of the landfill will have a reconstructed stream, with meanders, pools, and small rapids. The topography of the site will be altered, allowing for wetlands to form naturally over more than 40 acres. Native trees, such as sycamore, birch, and hickory will soon take root and native grasses will attract grassland birds.
“Let beauty be the standard,” said Ken Smith. “Let’s build up to what our expectations can be instead of working down. How can we beautify this active landfill and let that be the standard?”
Eventually a trail system will be created with wildlife viewing areas. The landfill will serve as a learning experience for visitors to gain knowledge about the best practices in waste management, modern landfill technology, and protecting threatened species.
“We hope to attract large numbers of visitors to our site to not only enjoy the birding experience, but also learn about how landfills work to protect the environment,” said David Conrad an engineer at Two Pine Landfill.
Modern Landfill Technology
Modern landfills in the U.S. are a far cry from their predecessors, where trash was collected in pits on the outskirts of town. Compacted clay and a plastic liner are laid down to prevent groundwater contamination. Pipes collect methane gas, a highly potent greenhouse gas that forms while trash is decomposing. A covering or cap seals the top of the landfill, while a monitoring system provides data on methane gas levels and water quality.
Methane gas can be used to generate electricity or produce heat. Two Pine Landfill has a 4.8 megawatt facility that produces electricity for approximately 4,500 homes in North Little Rock, AR.
Two Pine in Area of Biological Significance
Two Pine Landfill is located near the Bayou Meto Wildlife Management area, one of the largest state-owned wildlife management areas in the country with over 33,000 acres. (http://www.byways.org/explore/byways/2279/places/35444/)
“It is really one of the crown jewels in south central Arkansas for wildlife,” said Ken Smith. “It has big populations of mallards, wading birds, lots of geese, a big deer population, lots of squirrels, and beautiful bottomland hardwoods.”
The positive or negative impact of the landfill is magnified by this close proximity. “The same water that flows past Two Pine goes to Bayou Meto,” said George Wheatley, Director of Government Affairs for Waste Management of Arkansas. “That increases the importance of the restoration work we are doing here.”
Monitoring and enhancing water quality are top priorities of this restoration project. Capturing sediment to prevent erosion is very important for both aquatic and terrestrial species. Wetlands naturally filter out impurities, waste matter, and even some chemicals, helping to keep the water at Bayou Meto pristine.
Waste Management recently obtained permits to expand the Two Pine Landfill into an area that contained wetlands. Under law, they are required to either create wetlands elsewhere or pay into a fund. Wetlands are important for maintaining water quality and providing wildlife habitat. The wetland mitigation mandate is questionable because companies can essentially pay for the right to destroy wetlands or restore wetlands hundreds of miles away from the site that was altered.
This is not the case with Waste Management, who approached the Audubon Society with an interest in on-site mitigation. After a year of planning with the Audubon Society, there are now plans in place that greatly exceed the requirements.
“What Audubon brings to this is looking at Two Pine not as a landfill, but an opportunity for conservation,” said Ken Smith. “What we found working with Waste Management is that they also had ideas of improving and enhancing wildlife habitat here. It was the meeting of minds of similar interests, desire, and vision.”
Moving Beyond Landfills to Zero Waste
While the reality today is that modern landfills are safe and necessary, ultimately, landfills are a poor final destination for resources. Although landfill technology and management has grown by leaps and bounds over the last several decades, reusing, repurposing, composting, or recycling are far more sustainable practices.
According to the EPA, an astounding 251 million tons of trash were generated in the U.S. in 2006. About 32% of this was recycled or composted. Landfills are a grave for precious resources, many of which were used one time before being disposed of. Although Two Pine serves as an international model of effective waste management, it is important to work toward zero waste systems and one day make landfills obsolete.
Audubon Society’s Partnership with Waste Management
It may seem more likely that the Audubon Society would protest a landfill rather than partner with one. Non-profit organizations have a lot to contribute to corporations, but the most common partnerships are for philanthropic work that is carried out by a corporation, rather than assistance with core business practices. Certainly many non-profit organizations are ideally suited for assisting with philanthropic work, but they also possess knowledge that can be valuable for corporations to operate in a manner that is best for society and the environment. The partnership between the Audubon Society and Waste Management can serve as a model and help inspire future partnerships of this nature….