Copy of Voices Stafford Landfill Methane Power.jpg

The Stafford County landfill's electricity plant.

It was one of those great mysteries, something I have wanted to learn more about ever since I moved to Stafford, but somehow the object of my curiosity seemed shrouded in the unknown.

I knew we had a landfill, I had driven by it and been to its gates to deposit trash, yard debris and even hazardous waste. It’s a full-service facility. But the question persisted: What lies beyond the limited amount of the facility the public can see? And what goes on back there?

Finally, indulging my curiosity, I got my wish and had a guided tour. Rick Markwardt, the landfill superintendent, and Chris Hoover, the assistant superintendent, were my guides.

Now you say, “It’s a landfill.” What’s the big deal about that? To which I answer, there is a lot more to it than I or probably anyone else realizes. It’s a major industrial operation that makes a tremendous contribution to this community.

First, in the category of “handy facts you can use when you meet your buddies over coffee,” did you know that the landfill is the highest point in the county? That’s according to Stafford Commissioner of Revenue Scott Mayausky, and he must be right because the view from the highest point is fantastic. And yes, you can see the mountains to the west.

Overall, the landfill covers about 827 acres. That’s a substantial footprint. It’s organized into cells and was built by the Regional Solid Waste Management Board (“R-Board” for short) back in 1987. Each cell is lined with a special semi-porous material that guarantees the outside environment doesn’t suffer.

Inside, watching the trash come in and being processed is amazing. The trash is hauled in, weighed and dumped. It is then organized by a team of bulldozers and crushed and compacted with a device that’s about half the size of an U.S. Army main battle tank. Although there are other crushers on site, this big one should have its own video. Every square inch of the cell is used in the landfill.

It might surprise you to realize the landfill is a money-maker. Private haulers pay tipping fees to dump their trash, and the landfill earns revenue from the sale of recyclables. One of the hottest items on the recyclable market is cardboard, which is easily processed. But don’t forget cans and plastics – they’re money-makers, too.

There’s one revenue source that is not often talked about, but is substantial. One of the by-products of a landfill, the product of the decay of organic substances, is methane. It’s a combustible, even-burning gas that can be used to generate electricity. The landfill, through a third-party company, runs a full-scale electrical generating plant at the facility that produces electricity, which is sold to Dominion Energy. The output is sizable – roughly enough to power a community the size of Aquia Harbour, or about 2,500 homes.

The Stafford Landfill is operated by the R-Board and serves Stafford, Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania. King George has its own landfill. The R-Board is made up of appointed and elected officials from each community. Stafford’s representative is the new county supervisor from the Aquia District, Monica Gary.

Stafford’s landfill requires day-in and day-out attention. Solid waste must be processed – and it never stops – the methane collection points must be constantly checked, and water runoff must be collected and processed so it doesn’t pollute neighboring streams and groundwater. The landfill never gets a day off.

The landfill has been around since the late 1980s and is by no means full. There is at least another 30 years, probably more, of space left in this remarkable facility.

David Kerr is a Stafford resident and an adjunct professor of political science at VCU. He worked on Capitol Hill and for various federal agencies for many years.

(1) comment

Janet Smith

Good methane is burned rather than going into the atmosphere.

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