Citing Financial Losses, Bristol To Close Its Unlined Landfill

Jul 31, 2015

Saturday will be the last day that people in Bristol can take their trash to the town landfill. The unlined dump is shutting down after nearly 100 years of operation. 

The town was losing money on the landfill as residents recycle more of their refuse.

Like many people in Bristol, for Ken Thompson, a Saturday trip to the landfill is about socializing as much as it is about getting rid of trash.

"The thing is basically this is the town intelligence center if you want to find out what’s going on, everyone comes down here. It adds a whole social dimension to the town. There’s a lot of people you wouldn’t otherwise see normally," he said.

For $3.50 per bag, people can drive down a steep hill, back their vehicle up and throw their trash bags onto a pile. On this day, the heap includes a broken trampoline, Christmas lights and dressers.

At the end of the day, an operator covers the trash with tailings from Omya's Florence mine. On August 1, the garbage will be buried for the last time. Eventually a contractor will bury the entire five-acre landfill with several more layers of material, then fabric and soil before grass is planted. Pipes will allow methane gas to escape.

Bristol Town Administrator Therese Kirby says the decision to close is strictly financial.

"It’s 100 percent a business decision. Just not making money," she explained. "In June 2014 we lost over $40,000 because we were not able to fully fund our closure. We really had maxed out our revenue stream.  It was a losing proposition going forward."

"In June 2014 we lost over $40,000 because we were not able to fully fund our closure. We really had maxed out our revenue stream. It was a losing proposition going forward." - Therese Kirby, Bristol town administrator

Unlined landfills have to pay into a closure fund, and last summer, Bristol got a notice from the state saying it was in violation. That’s when the discussion began about closing. Kirby says recycling has cut the amount of trash that comes in. Also, many families would rather have their trash picked up by a hauler rather than going to the dump themselves. Those haulers, including one that picked up trash by horse, all take the trash to the Coventry landfill.

But the end of the landfill won't mean the end of socializing around the garbage bags. The town has selected a waste hauler to come to the landfill site each Saturday to take trash and recyclables, but the trash will now go to the landfill in Coventry.

The town has selected a waste hauler to come to the landfill site each Saturday to take trash and recyclables, but the trash will now go to the landfill in Coventry.
Credit Melody Bodette / VPR

Buzz Surwilo, an environmental analyst with the state’s waste management division, said Bristol's landfill took a very small amount of trash, and had room for more.

“They actually had capacity but I think they found that as environmental regulations become more stringent, it becomes harder to operate a single town unlined landfill. It becomes more expensive as the regulations get tighter," he said. "I think it was more a question of economics more than capacity in Bristol."

Surwilo says at one time the state had as many as 150 unlined landfills. Many shut down in the late '80s and early '90s when new state and federal laws imposed strict regulations on unlined landfills.

The state currently tracks 70 closed landfills. Bristol's dump will be monitored for at least 30 years.

But the monitoring continues for decades. The state currently tracks 70 closed landfills. Bristol’s dump will be monitored for at least 30 years.

Many of those landfills received state funds to help with their closure. That money has now run out, but Kirby says the town has been promised up to $180,000 from next year’s state budget to help make up the gap between their fund and the full cost of closure.

Once Bristol’s landfill is capped this fall, the town of Salisbury will have the last remaining unlined landfill in the state.