Better Than the Creek

by Mallory Leonard

Blount County is a special place for many reasons, especially some that residents rarely think about. Take, for example, the landfill.

Sam Holloway, the Solid Waste Manager, oversees the operation of the Alcoa/Maryville/Blount County Sanitary Landfill, and he will proudly share with anyone who wants to know the services his team of 17 employees provides to this community.

This is one of the very few remaining landfills to be publicly owned, and it is owned jointly by the City of Alcoa, the City of Maryville, and Blount County governments. The three agreed long ago that the City of Alcoa would operate the landfill, so Sam and everyone who works there are employees of Alcoa.

The landfill is a self-sufficient operation; it does not receive funding from any taxes. Instead, the landfill functions solely on the tipping fees, which are currently $10.50 for up to 500 lbs and $42 per ton. The landfill receives around 350 tons of solid waste each day, 200 tons of municipal waste and 150 tons of construction/demolition. Yearly that income adds up to approximately $4 million, which effectively covers their operations, repairs, necessary purchases, and their many expensive fees and permits. They charge only the amount required to safely dispose of the solid waste brought in, so the system is truly “pay as you dump.”

Speaking of, let’s set the record straight. Many Blount County residents refer to this place as “the dump,” which is a grievous misrepresentation. A dump refers to a site where people simply toss their garbage. At a dump there is nothing to prevent the chemicals from all that trash from contaminating the groundwater.

Sam’s operation is a safe and strictly-regulated site for waste disposal. Leachate, or “trash tea” as Sam calls it, is properly collected, regularly tested, and sent to the water treatment plant. Methane is also collected onsite and processed to generate electricity. The A/M/BC Landfill is one of the smallest in the country to house an operation that can convert the gasses emitted by decomposing garbage into renewable energy.

At 260 acres, this landfill is quite a small one. In truth there are two landfills on the site: one for construction/demolition waste and one for municipal waste. Municipal waste is basically your household garbage, so those cells are the ones creating leachate (rainwater that percolates through the trash) and methane.

Sam works very hard to keep his landfill in good shape, and he thinks the residents of Blount County are very fortunate to have this service. He worked in solid waste management in two other Tennessee counties, Hamilton and Monroe, before taking the Manager job here, and he feels confident that Blount County’s option is superior. At the same time, he is fully aware of the problems with landfills, like how much waste we’re creating and how many trees and habitats are sacrificed because of it. But, he says, “as bad as landfills are, it’s better than the creek.”

The landfill also offers some recycling options, including cardboard, newspaper, plastic types 1 and 2, electronics, used oil, tires, scrap metal, and lead acid batteries. Residents do not have to pay the tipping fee for recycling.

Blount County’s landfill was opened in 1973 and has a life expectancy of approximately 50 more years. Even after it is full and completely capped, the site will have to be monitored for 30 years. The land will continue to settle indefinitely, so the space can never be used for buildings. Instead, the landfill may be converted into a park, and it would be the perfect place for one. After all, other than Foothills Parkway, the landfill boasts the highest point in Blount County with gorgeous panoramic views of the Smokies. The Blount County Model Aviators are already enjoying using a capped cell to fly their planes, and the kids on field trips enjoy having them there too.

The landfill is part of everyone’s life in Blount County, because everyone’s trash ends up there. For those who want to know what happens to their waste when it leaves their bins, the landfill offers free tours. To schedule one, call Sam Holloway at 995-2998 or Keep Blount Beautiful at 681-4809.