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The West and the Waste

Updated on January 14, 2015

The Stuff of Which Nightmares Are Made

Handle with Care
Handle with Care | Source


Big waste companies are not restricted to the West, but they are the ones that grab headlines when mergers and acquisitions occur. USA Waste bought Sanfill in the mid-1990s. USA Waste Services, Inc., acquired Waste Management for over 21 Billion. USA Waste aggressively bought United Waste Systems, Inc. in a multi-billion dollar stock swap. It also bought Chambers Development Company, Inc., based in Pittsburgh. It is hard to keep track of the names. Not only are they numerous, they are also similar. Western Waste Industries in Southern California became the target of a federal probe for corruption. Par for the course in the big leagues. Republic Services, Inc. bought landfills from Waste Management -- which in a way introduces the subject in mind. Western States are basically larger than their Eastern and Mid-Western counterparts. They have the natural resources to deal with a process that requires a good amount of square mileage away from centers of population.

Who are the major players? Here are a few: (1) Waste Management, Inc. (2) Progressive Waste Solutions Ltd. (3) Republic Services, Inc. (4) Waste Connections, Inc. (5) Clean Harbors, Inc. (6) Casella Waste Systems, Inc. (7) U.S. Ecology, Inc. (8) Advanced Emissions Solutions, Inc. (9) Perma-Fix Environmental Services, Inc. (10) Covina Holding Corp. (11) Heritage-Crystal Clean, Inc. (12) Waste Control Specialists, LLC. The latter is particularly interesting since it deals with "low-level radioactive waste." Like it or not, radioactivity is here to stay.


As could be expected, most of the biggest landfills are located in Western States. One in Michigan, another in Indiana, and a third in Virginia are more the exception than the rule. Far from being ecological nightmares, the landfills are actually quite useful. After all, we cannot act as though there were no such thing as waste or that we do not use electricity. My data comes by way of a CNBC website. Here are a few of the landfills it singles out: (1) Roosevelt Regional Landfill in Washington State (2) Denver Arapahoe Disposal Site in Colorado (3) Columbia Ridge Landfill in Oregon (4) El Sobrante Landfill & Recycling Center in California (5) McCarty Road Landfill in Houston, Texas (6) Sunshine Canyon Landfill in California (7) Apex Waste Center in Nevada. Each processes between six and nine thousand tons per day.

Landfill + A View: You Be the Judge

Necessary, Not Pretty
Necessary, Not Pretty | Source

Distance is Our Best Friend Forever

The West is a large portion of the United States. It is, in places, underpopulated. There is precious little water and the soil is alkaline. Despite the wonderful procedures by which burned waste is converted into methane gas, then powers homes and so much else, the word "waste" needs to be broken down. I am not a scientist, but I would wager that it would break down into thousands of chemical components, some of which would pose dangers, others harmless. The proximity to Houston, in the one instance, and Denver, in another, I think beggars re-thinking. But more remote areas of Washington, California, Oregon, and Colorado are the better candidates for something that simply has to be done. Painting rosy pictures where none are called for, such as highlighting a pipeline from the McCarty Road Landfill to Anheuser-Busch Brewery, or another pipeline from Atlantic Waste Disposal to Honeywell International, serves no purpose. It is always contended that nuclear plants are perfectly safe, the same as tap water, but people know different. Quality controls and a fighting chance are all that us poor individuals can ask for, and our concerns should not be ignored. No one really wants to return to the good old days of ice boxes and outdoor plumbing. But technology is, in addition to all else, a producer of problems that cannot be entirely solved. Thus, the greater aggregate will survive with its health intact. But some, we know not who, will fall by the wayside, unable to cope with certain pollutants.

Large Versus Small

It appears that when it comes to landfills, the corporations are more suited to what needs to be done. A New York Times article, dated November 3, 2007, written by Catrin Einhorn, reports on the deaths of four men, all in their forties. They had been trying to repair a water pump to facilitate drainage to sewers in a family run landfill outside Superior, Wisconsin, population 500. They had been overcome by fumes. By the time the local fire department arrived, they were already dead. Minnesota Public Radio's Bob Kelleher covered the same event (Nov. 2, 2007) and identified hydrogen sulfide as the culprit. It is the natural creation of things that rot.

According to, diseases linked to the leakage of toxic waste into soil and water can cause cancer, kidney and liver disease, brain and nerve damage, malaria, cholera, and dysentery. In Greensboro, NC, higher than normal pancreatic cancer cases cropped up near its landfill. This is yet another argument in favor of corporate management. The major waste companies have the means to use the best containment resources available.

U.S. Policies Relating to Waste

At least the folks on the hill are working on it.  Will anybody actually read this?
At least the folks on the hill are working on it. Will anybody actually read this? | Source

Size Matters

Why are the western states preferred for the storage of waste? The statistics indicate as much. Check out the square mileage of land, state by state. (1) Alaska, 571,951 (2) Texas, 261,797 (3) California 155,959 (4) New Mexico 121,356 (5) Arizona 113,635 (6) Utah 82,144 (7) South Dakota 75,885. Montana, probably more north than west, has 145,552 square mile of land. With the exception of parts of California and Arizona, it is not be hard to find out-of-the-way places where large corporations can perform the work necessary for the general health and welfare of the entire nation.

However, the West has already been subjected to excess regarding its own waste without having to deal with waste transported from elsewhere. A Michigan Professor of Economics traces mining waste, 2.5 billion a year, to an 1872 law meant to lure pioneers westward following the Civil War. The law made it easy for miners to disregard environmental protection as well as acquire land to mine without financial hardship. The practice continues owing to the political power miners wield.

Water Matters

This is another reason why the west is best when it comes to waste. It has large portions that are very dry, devoid of lakes and rivers. Waste needs to be kept from all water sources, which feed back into the world at large. The East and the Midwest are unsuited to waste removal for this same reason. One might add that extracting precious metal, copper, ore, natural gas, uranium, and many other commodities from the earth is just as dangerous as stuffing unwanted products into it. But there is no real way around it. These enterprises are ongoing and unstoppable. Environmentalists can win in the short run as well as protect natural treasures from being raped by big business. In the long run, however, well-thought-out planning and rational compromise prevents economic mishaps and decreases the urge to overreact.

An example of carelessness in this respect has to do with the above-mentioned western mining. It enables acids and metals to enter into surface and groundwater. Ultimately, when things really get bad, mines can create areas that are too contaminated to live in or nearby. Still, I hasten to add that our way of life is in part dependent upon mining. Thus, hazards must somehow be dealt with since they cannot actually be done away with. It is particularly worrisome, nonetheless, when water is affected. Unchecked, the west becomes no better than elsewhere, though it is still hard to imagine storage in the vicinity of major, mostly eastern river systems.

Waste Matters

Granted, this is a ponderous subject. Landfills are only a portion of a solution that will never eliminate risk in terms of disease and death. Enforcement of EPA laws governing the treatment of waste and recycling is to some extent impossible. Pesticides show up in our drinking water, but there are thousands of farms in the offending area. Importing and exporting waste results in ocean dumping. It is just in the nature of things. Opportunities to defy not only international law but common sense are too tempting. Incinerating is a viable means of reducing waste, too, though it also poisons the air. Uranium mining waste is a difficult and frustrating affair that involves a rather dangerous process called tailings, sealed landfills in pits. Some people within the neighborhood will fall ill or have shortened lives. There is no question but that the west is helpful. It is vast, water-poor, and relatively less populated. It is easy to get a bit maudlin over so uncomfortable a subject. Why do we consider ourselves so advanced in terms of civilization when we basically wallow in filth? But then, also take into account developing nations where waste problems are even more grim with governments that do not even try to alleviate the situation.


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    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 3 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      A very well done and well written article. Interesting topic. We sure do just use and throw away as a society.