Shawnee students learn more about landfill’s odor reduction measures
Waste Management, city officials visit Horizon third-graders
When Amy Lewis’s third-grade class recently learned about the increasing odors from the Johnson County Landfill bothering the residents of Shawnee, they came up with their own inventions to address the problem — most of them involving Febreeze.
On Wednesday, they learned that wasn’t too far off the mark.
As a reward for trying to solve the odor problem in Shawnee last month, the students at Horizon Elementary School got a visit from Mayor Michelle Distler, Deputy City Manager Vicki Charlesworth and two representatives from Waste Management, the company that runs the landfill: Lisa Disbrow, Waste Management spokeswoman, and Jim Murray, manager of the landfill.
Murray said the students were partially on the right track with their Febreeze suggestion.
“We actually have a truck that goes around the landfill, and it has a big tank on the back end with a spray bar, and we fill it will a chemical mixed with water that is a lot like Febreeze,” he told the students. “… We drive it around the perimeter, when it gets smelling pretty bad, and it sprays that solution out into the air. So hopefully you smell that instead of all the other maybe bad smells.”
“So you’re saying these third-graders are pretty smart?” Distler interjected.
But the students also learned how Waste Management tries to stop the odors from ever reaching the air around the landfill.
Murray explained that trash is deposited in the landfill throughout the day, placed in a hole, and packed down with machines weighing 55 tons. He showed the students a display that illustrated how, once the trash hole is full and covered with dirt, the landfill operators dig deep holes — up to 100 feet deep — into the trash to install pipes that vacuum out the gases created by decomposition.
“Really what we want to try and do is pull those smells down where we can control them and not let them waft up into the atmosphere and the air,” Murray said.
One student asked why the company couldn’t just put a dome over the landfill, and Murray replied that it would be hard to build a dome big enough to cover 450 acres.
When the gas is sucked out of the waste, the students learned, it is sent through pipes to a compression plant and is used as natural gas both for homes and to operate the landfill’s garbage trucks that are built to use natural gas. They learned some gases also are burned off with a flare, which can sometimes be seen from the road.
Increased odor problems began last summer because of weather conditions and other factors, but Charlesworth said that since Waste Management implemented its new odor control measures on Feb. 25, there have only been two odor complaints, compared with more than 60 the month before.
Distler praised the students for taking the time to think about inventions that would address the landfill’s odor problems.
“You started thinking about solutions and looking for solutions, and then you reported that you found some solutions,” Distler said. “So that’s a good thing, because you’re engaged in your community, and you’re helping to make your city better.”
Murray also encouraged the students to continue inventing.
“We’re always looking for young engineers that can come out and work for Waste Management to come up with ideas for what we can do with trash, the odors,” he said. “There’s a lot of engineering that goes into the trash trucks that run on the road and landfills, designing those.”
The students also got a chance to quiz the mayor and Charlesworth about their jobs, including Distler’s favorite part of being mayor.
“Doing things like this,” Distler said. “Meeting kids like you who are going to change the world.”