Skip to main content

Draper Journal

Talkin’ trash, ‘wish-cycling,’ and recycling right

Apr 08, 2024 02:09PM ● By Mimi Darley Dutton

This behemoth vehicle that compacts trash at the Trans-Jordan Landfill weighs the equivalent of a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house. Still, there’s only so much space for all that garbage to go, even after it’s compacted. (Courtesy Trans-Jordan Landfill)

What is it about trash that makes us want to forget about it? Is it because it’s stinky, dirty and disgusting? What is “wish-cycling?”  Why should we care enough to take a little extra time to recycle right, or to care about trash in general? 

“A lot of times when garbage is picked up, it’s out of sight and out of mind. People don’t realize a landfill is storing all that garbage. Eventually we’re going to run out of space, but there are things we can do to help keep waste out of the landfill so we won’t be wasting valuable materials that can be made into new materials through the recycling process,” said Jill Fletcher, public education and community outreach coordinator for the Trans-Jordan Landfill.

Fletcher leads tours of the landfill, including for school children. She also visits third-grade classrooms to talk about the importance of thinking about garbage and recycling right. Garbage and recycling are topics often covered in third-grade curriculum. 

Fletcher explains that Trans-Jordan is a landfill as opposed to a dump and that’s an important distinction. A dump doesn’t have liners in the ground to protect the soil or groundwater where garbage is kept, nor does it have a cap on top to prevent methane gas from going into the atmosphere. Conversely, a landfill has three layers of protective liners, a drainage system that collects garbage water (called leachate) and a protective cap that goes on top of a landfill to seal it when it’s full. Sealing it makes it a “digester” meaning that methane gas is generated and pulled out to make renewable energy. “We’re protecting air, groundwater and soil contamination,” Fletcher said. 

Draper is one of seven member cities of the Trans-Jordan Landfill. Being a member means Draper has paid into properly caring for and disposing of the city’s waste, and by investing in the landfill, Draper is guaranteed a place for its trash to go for at least the next 100 years. Membership also means lower rates for residents. 

“Draper City pays $24 per ton instead of the regular $39 per ton. That means Draper has saved millions,” said Jaren Scott, Trans-Jordan’s executive director. According to Scott, Draper’s annual rate for curbside garbage collection is 22,000 tons.

The current Trans-Jordan landfill on Bacchus Highway in South Jordan has eight years of capacity left, so Trans-Jor

dan is building a transfer station next to Sandy Public Works. It will open in spring 2025. A second transfer station will be open in South Jordan in 2032. Those two transfer stations will replace the landfill when it closes, but they’re called transfer stations because all that waste will be transferred to an 800-plus acre landfill in Utah County known as Bayview. “There will never be another landfill in Salt Lake County because the land is so valuable and there is no land left,” Scott said. 

The transfer stations will be state of the art indoor facilities with automatic doors to help with odor and noise control and concrete pads for people to easily drive in and dump their waste on. They’ll have air filtrations systems to clean the air three times every hour and a misting system to keep odors under control. In order to make things quicker for residential customers, the transfer stations will have separate entrances for residential and commercial drop-offs. On Saturdays, they’ll only be open to residential customers, not commercial loads. 

Salt Lake County is no longer hosting collection events for residential hazardous waste such as oil, paint, pesticides, batteries and antifreeze, but residential customers can drop those items off for free at both the Trans-Jordan landfill and the Salt Lake Valley Landfill. 

Electronic waste is not currently being accepted at Trans-Jordan, but it is accepted at the Salt Lake Valley landfill. “We’re trying to find some funding for that, but for now, all e-waste is being thrown away in the landfill,” Fletcher said. 

Trans-Jordan used to offer a green waste program. They had planned to phase it out, then a fire at the facility caused that program to end earlier than planned. Now, all green waste is mixed in with the rest of the garbage. Scott said the benefit is that green waste in a landfill works as an “anaerobic digester.” 

Then there’s recycling: Utah has a 30% contamination rate compared to the national average of 17%. That high contamination rate means people are putting things into their recycling that don’t belong, or “wish-cycling” items they hope can be recycled that actually can’t be. 

It’s important to understand that recycling is picked up curbside and taken to a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) where it’s put on a conveyor belt and sorted by hand to remove any “contamination” (items that can’t be recycled and are therefore garbage). Contamination from improper recycling and “wish-cycling” is problematic and more expensive because after it is sorted out as garbage at the MRF, it then has to be hauled to the landfill.

The three basic things sorted at the MRF to be recycled are plastic, aluminum/steel, and paper/carboard.

Fletcher offered these important, basic recycling tips:

1) Don’t bag recycling! Put items in loose and make sure they are clean, dry and empty

2) Every city website has a list of what can and can’t go in recycling. Be sure to review it.

3) No plastic bags (grocery bags, Ziploc baggies, produce bags, etc.) 

4) No plastic film (bubble wrap, Saran wrap, shrink wrap, etc.) 

5) Avoid “wish-cycling.” When in doubt, throw it out!

Items that can be recycled and have an end-use market are bailed and shipped off to be made into new products. Foreign countries used to be willing to take recycling from America, but that’s happening less and less. The upside to that is more recycling companies are opening in the United States. “It’s opened up a demand for local recycling,” Fletcher said. λ