Komatsu dozer provides ‘phenomenal’ visibility
Most people probably see the waste-collection process as throwing away what they don’t use, separating some plastic bottles and watching a truck pick it up once a week. In reality, it’s an intricate process that begins even before the garbage makes it into the can. Laurens County Solid Waste Management Authority Director Michael Snipes has spent more than a decade refining the process to make a landfill as efficient as possible.
Snipes earned a degree in mechanical engineering and worked in the environmental field and textiles before taking his current position. He admits that he didn’t realize what went into operating a safe, much less successful, landfill when he joined Laurens County Solid Waste Management Authority 13 years ago. Ironically, that lack of knowledge helped him succeed in his job.
“I told our engineer when I was hired that I would need to think outside of the box, because I didn’t even know where the box was,” he joked. “I think technically about things because I got into this area without any background in it. This outsider mind-set has been great for us, and it’s led to some pretty innovative things.”
He credits his staff of 10 employees, some of whom have been with the landfill since it opened in 1996, for teaching him the operation and collaborating on new ideas. Together, Snipes and his staff have overhauled the authority’s compaction approach, managed a successful single-stream recycling program and launched an award-winning composting operation.
Today, the site has three disposal areas, including municipal solid waste (MSW), inert and construction and demolition (C&D) with a composting operation as well. The facility accepts solid waste from Laurens County and recycled goods from five surrounding counties. It composts biosolids and yard trimmings from the city of Dublin, in addition to food waste from the Atlanta-metro area. It is the only landfill in Georgia permitted to compost animal mortalities.
“Our tonnages fluctuate, but we typically process about 200 tons per day of MSW and C&D material and another 40 tons of inert material,” explained Snipes. “Approximately 10 percent of our total waste stream is diverted through our recycling and composting programs. We think we can eventually reach 15 to 20 percent.”
Going Vertical with Al-jon
When the 492-acre landfill opened 20 years ago, it had a life expectancy of roughly 36 years. This prompted Snipes and his team to focus on efficiently managing incoming waste in order to extend the life of the site.
“Airspace is the only commodity that we have to sell, and we have a fixed amount of it,” said Snipes. “We operate as an independent authority; we don’t receive any taxpayer money. The more garbage we can pack into a given airspace, the more revenue we can generate for the facility to operate.”
The first solution was adding a separate C&D landfill on the property. While a footprint for the second landfill already existed, Snipes and his team expanded the area, yet the landfill was still trending at a 30-year lifespan. That’s when the team looked to change its compaction methods.
“We weren’t being very efficient with how we were compacting the garbage,” recalled Snipes. “Instead of rolling it down a slope and packing it, we decided to focus on smaller sections at a time and go vertical.”
The new method was a change from traditional protocol. By dumping and compacting on 100-by-100-foot areas one at a time, the landfill could increase compaction by rolling over a more level surface to maximize the use of natural downforce. Once a section is complete, the team places intermediate soil cover over the area and begins the same process on a new spot.
Another important part of the equation was the purchase of a new Al-jon 525 landfill compactor four years ago. The compactor weighs nearly 25,000 pounds more than the landfill’s previous machine, and it was designed specifically for maximum compaction density. Thanks to a unique traction pattern on the wheels, only one cleat is in contact with the ground at a time, allowing the wheels to transfer as much downforce as possible into the ground.
“The Al-jon compactor helped us dramatically,” recalled Snipes. “The machine offered a 20 percent increase in weight, but was still compact enough to maneuver in our smaller cells, which was very important to us. Also, the design of the cleats on the wheels keeps constant downforce on the waste, while limiting wheel spin in turns. It was a game-changer for us.”
The new machine initially increased compaction densities to approximately 1,500 pounds per cubic yard and, coupled with a permit modification, helped extend the lifespan of the MSW landfill to 74 years, and the C&D landfill to 62 years. Today, the facility averages nearly 1,700 pounds per cubic yard. Snipes estimates that the lifespan of the MSW could be as long as 90-100 years through the team’s improvements and dedication to efficiency.
Maximizing space and creating revenue streams are Snipes’ primary goals. The facility’s compost operation meets both of those aims and more. In addition to selling compost to the public, it’s also used to generate topsoil for the site, helping with erosion control prior to seeding on intermediate covers.
“The compost has been really good for us,” said Snipes. “It has almost eliminated erosion and our need for fertilizer. Plus, we’re producing something that saves us money operationally and space in the landfill. It’s a win-win.”
Both the design and the location of the compost operation were the result of creative thinking. Instead of adding costly new infrastructure at the site, the entire operation was built on top of constructed cells within the landfill. The location eliminated the need to construct a pad, collection system or leachate pond. The design earned the landfill the Gold Excellence Award from the Solid Waste Association of North America in 2013.
“We used what was already in place,” said Snipes. “We compost over cells that would otherwise be useless. Now when our landfill grows, the compost operation moves with it.”
Snipes sees composting as the next step to increasing the life of the landfill.
“Recycling food waste through compost is one of the best ways to reduce the amount of solid waste that reaches landfills,” explained Snipes. “I think it would help us recycle as much as 60 percent of incoming material. We are trying to educate people on the benefits of composting. It will start small, but I think it’ll be something very important in the future.”
TEC answers the call
In addition to two Al-jon 525 landfill compactors, Snipes and his crew rely on Komatsu equipment from Tractor & Equipment Company (TEC) and Branch Manager Kyle McMahon to maintain an efficient operation. Currently, the landfill sports three Komatsu dozers – a D51PX and two D61PXs.
“Our first Komatsu piece was the D51PX dozer, and it has been great,” said Snipes. “The visibility, thanks to the slant-nose design, is phenomenal. The power is amazing, and it can handle any application, from moving garbage to building slopes.”
When the company was ready to replace one of its larger dozers, Komatsu won the bid with a D61. “We wanted a dozer with low ground pressure and a six-way blade that could also duplicate the power of the dozer we were replacing,” Snipes continued. “The D61 has been awesome. It handles just like the smaller D51, and our operators love it.”
Snipes says that TEC is always ready if he needs parts or service on the Al-jon or Komatsu products.
“TEC has been great to work with,” noted Snipes. “The staff is always friendly and helpful. I can’t say enough good things about them. They understand that we can’t afford downtime, and they are always ready to help as fast as they can.”
Bright future ahead
With a 90-year lifespan to look forward to, Laurens County Solid Waste Management Authority is primed for a strong future.
“With our new modifications approved and permits in place, our outlook is excellent,” said Snipes. “A landfill is like an ongoing construction project. We are moving and growing every day, so we need to continue to run efficiently. If we can do that, I think we’ll be very successful going forward.”