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A Day at the landfill

Hall closets and Landfills have much in common.  They store things we don’t want to think about. You know. Everything we don’t want company to see. Or you just can’t deal with at the moment. “Things” like the VCR we’re going to have fixed one day, the winter coats we don’t need, the old scrabble game no one plays, the vacuum cleaner missing a wheel. Well – one day when we open the door to store just one more thing, there won’t be anymore room. Eventually the day comes when the door won’t even close or worse; everything tumbles out of the closet onto the living room floor.

Now What?

It is only now that we begin the painful process of looking anew at our ‘stored items’ and attempt to deal with them. Maybe the VCR really should get fixed, and the scrabble game given to the local charity. Maybe all the magazines we’re saving should go to someone who is going to read them. Or to a recycle bin. Maybe that broken vacuum should get fixed and go to the daughter in Tucson. Sometimes we need help with this process.

Sharon Winters,who is Gila County’s Recycling and Landfill manager, is like the kind neighbor who comes over and helps us get rid of the mess on the floor. She does not chastise us for putting so much in the closet in the first place. She even nods in sympathy as we explain WHY we were keeping all that stuff in the first place. And yet, she persists in telling us all the wonderful things that can be done with that “stuff” which will be better than putting it back in the closet. She then lines up equipment, people and a 12-step program to help us kick the trash habit.

Winters tosses her water bottle into the recycle bin.
Winters tosses her water bottle into the recycle bin.

Winters, who is a native of Globe and comes from a pioneering ranching family, has been championing the issue of trash in Gila County since 2001 when she took over the operations of the landfill operations in Globe and Payson. “Today the emphasis is on recycling because landfill space everywhere is disappearing and the cost to build a new one is prohibitive,” she says. “ We are fortunate to have the land (at Russell Gulch) which allows us to extend the life of this landfill until 2040, but even that is based on a much greater emphasis on recycling and managing what actually goes into the ground.”

And then she lights up as she invites me for a spin around the landfill. “Want to see what we are doing? “ she asks. She likes nothing better than an opportunity to show off her people and talk about the landfill and the many recycling efforts underway in Gila County. The Russell Gulch Landfill accepts an average of 90 tons per day on it’s 160 acre site, and would run out of space in the next 7-8 years, were it not for the fortunate circumstance of having adjacent land to expand. The ADEQ recently approved the county’s request and Winters is preparing to develop another “cell” which will serve the area until 2040. After that – there is no more space in any closet in the house.

So, making our landfill space stretch as far as possible is one of WInters’ top concerns and it all begins with  putting less in the ground. Even her job title reflects the change in attitude about trash; “My job title changed from Gila County Solid Waste manager, to “Recycling & Landfill Manager.” says Winters, as she grabs a water bottle and prepares to give me a spin around the Landfill.



First Stop: the Recycling Center for Plastics and Paper
First Stop: the Recycling Center for Plastics and Paper

*Large concrete bins are used to sort plastics which come in from the Green recycling bins. Currently the county program accepts only #1 plastics which include water and soda bottles,rinsed milk jugs and Gatorade bottles. Although the market for plastics has plummeted as orders from China have dried up forcing the price per pound to go from 9 cents to 3 cents, the program still offers a significant benefit to the community because of the space savings. Less going into the landfill. More life to the landfill.

Winters explained that the County has spend just over $39,000 on equipment and construction for the plastics recycling project and the City of Globe, contributed $11,600 to purchase the large Green bins you see around town. Should the market for plastics pick up again, the county will look at expanding the plastics recycling program.

Note: Most people are used to the recycling bins in the big cities where sorting is done by conveyors. Here all sorting has to be done by hand into a receiver bin where it is then compacted to a full load of about 1,800 pounds and hauled to the Valley.

When plastics recycling first started, Winters explained they had about 35-40% contamination (mixed plastics & trash) and that figure is down to 20%. 

As for paper; Gila County took over paper recycling from a private contractor in 2003. Winters explains, “ We began with a very humble start of a 40 yard bin and some 5 yard containers which we had to empty by hand. It took 6 weeks before we hauled our first load of paper to the recycler in Scottsdale! Today, over 2,800  tons of paper have been recycled from bins located at multiple locations throughout Globe, Payson and San Carlos.



Second Stop:

Rubber Tires of all sizes
Rubber Tires of all sizes


Rubber is a problem for landfills. If a tire fire ignites, it is near impossible to put it out, and even EPA has acknowledged the danger and has issued an edict about just how many tires a landfill can house at any one time. So finding some way to dispose of tires is a must for any landfill. Here in Arizona, CRM of America, located in Queen Creek, is the nation’s largest producer of crumb rubber and processes 90% of Arizona’s 6.1 million waste tires into a fine crumb rubber which is then shipped all over the world to be used in making long-lasting, quiet pavement. According to an article by Ed Taylor of the East Valley Tribune, it was not until 2003 when new ownership took over the facility that it began to operate profitably, but it is now a standard bearer of what the right technology, in the right hands can accomplish. Currently the Gila county recycles 42,000 used tires per year, and received $100,000 from the State in waste tire payments. (When you buy a tire, you pay $2 per tire into this fund and it enables landfills to pay for the cost of disposal/recycle)



Third Stop:  The CRT Graveyard...where old computers go
Third Stop: The CRT Graveyard…where old computers go

Discarding old technology. Remember when CRT screens used to be cool? Now they have been replaced by flat screens and over 50 tons of “old technology” in the last 3 years have been received at the landfill. These are loaded up and shipped into Phoenix and sent to a recycling center in Denver.


Fourth Stop:  The Metal Pile

We stopped at a pile which included an old motorcycle, TV and assortment of metal frames, washers and dryers and even a cast iron sink. All metal. This is the pile which gets “cubed”, hauled to a metal recycling plant in Phoenix where they sort and shred. Much of the shredded metal goes overseas.

Today, ADEQ requires that landfills have “financial assurance – a fund set aside for closure costs. Currently this cost for our landfill is 4.5 million dollars and most of these funds were previously saved over ten years. To start a new landfill would be to start a new fund of millions of dollars. As Winters explains, when small town landfills close, transfer stations are put in and trash is trucked to major landfills. For example: Waste Management has established a transfer station in Payson and the min. charge for a few bags of trash is $23. Here in Globe-Miami, the cost is $3 for up to 150 lbs of household trash.

Currently that makes our trash “cheap.” But the day will come when we too will run out of room. Winters and her crew at the Landfill are working hard to push that timeframe out as long as possible. We can all do our part by paying attention to what we throw away…and what we put in that hall closet.


From RecycleNET:

Scrap White Goods: household appliances etc –   $      37.50 ton

Sheet Iron                                                               $     50.00 ton

Mixed Steel Can Scrap                                           $    75.00 ton

Clean Scrap Copper                       1.89lb              $ 3,780.00 ton

Mixed Paper                                                                $         28.50 ton

Old Newsprint                                                            $         68.40 ton


Landfill  057
The cost of a CAT compactor is $370,000. It is the workhorse of the landfill and can compact 1400 lbs of garbage into one cubic yard of space.








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About Linda Gross

Writer, photographer. Passionate foodie, lover of good books and storytelling. Lives in Globe. Plays in the historic district. Travels when possible.

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