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A Landfill With a 200 Year Lifespan

UTA Develops Sustainable Waste Management Solutions

Thursday, January 28, 2016

UTA professor Sahadat Hossain grew up in Bangladesh. Memories from his childhood shaped the research he’s turned into a career.

“Many developing countries don’t have landfills. All they have are open dumps,” he said, “and everybody who lives by an open dump -- they are all sick. I saw those people when I was a kid.”

Now the director of the UTA Solid Waste Institute for Sustainability, Hossain is converting the seemingly never-ending problem of waste generation into a solution.

A partnership with the city of Denton has allowed Hossain and other civil engineers from UTA to test new techniques of solid waste management. They are proving their theories effective at Denton’s city landfill, located about an hour north of the University of Texas at Arlington campus.

“Because Dr. Hossain and his grad students are working in an area that we function in, we thought it was a good opportunity to partner together to work on providing research projects that would improve the way we operate,” said Vance Kemler, the General Manager of Solid Waste for Denton.

As the world’s population increases, so does the amount of trash generated. But landfills are approaching capacity.

“If we keep managing the solid waste the way we have been doing it the last 50 years, it’s not going to be sustainable,” he said. “So where are we going to go?”

Four years ago, UTA installed a high tech sensor system at the landfill to boost methane gas production. The landfill now generates enough electricity to power three thousand homes. Hossain's work continues, as he is now testing the concept of landfill mining.

Instead of finding a place for a new landfill, he suggests starting over at the same site, returning to the spots where the earliest waste was buried years ago. “We’re going to mine the material out, reuse some of that material, and sell the recyclables,” explained Hossain. “Once you’re digging things out, it becomes available space. So we start filling it up again, and that becomes our new landfill. If the landfill life is supposed to be 30 years, but we keep using it again and again, it will last for 200 years.”

Denton is the site of the first landfill mining project in Texas, and the first in the US to be part of a sustainable waste management system.

The UTA-Denton collaboration is so innovative and impactful, members of the International Solid Waste Association came to North Texas in January for a Winter School on Solid Waste Management.

“The way they manage the waste here is something that should be taken to the other places. It’s really amazing,” said Marcelo Benvenuto, a civil engineer and landfill designer from Brazil.

Hossain is proposing a bold solution to a global problem, on that exemplifies UTA’s commitment to improving health and the human condition, building sustainable urban communities, making a global environmental impact, and doing it all through data driven discoveries.

“In terms of the University’s strategic plan, we are basically covering every aspect of the strategic plan and I’m very proud of it,” he said.