Jeff Murray SWANA NRWA Policy Champion

3 Things to Know About the Landfill Post-Closure Care Policy Released by SWANA and NWRA

A brief Q&A with policy champion Jeff Murray on what state regulators and municipal solid waste landfill owners and operators need to know

We sat down with former Solid Waste Association of North America president and HDR Senior Project Manager Jeff Murray to get his insight into the newly released SWANA and National Waste and Recycling Association technical policy on termination of municipal solid waste landfill post-closure care requirements. Jeff championed development of the policy along with NWRA and cohorts from SWANA’s Landfill Technical Division. SWANA’s 70-member International Board of Directors finalized and approved the policy early this year.

Q: What’s the overall intent of the Termination of Municipal Solid Waste Landfill Post-Closure Care Requirements policy? 

JM: Current federal solid waste regulations cite a 30-year post-closure period for landfills to provide owners and operators financial assurance, but offer no guidance on how state regulatory agencies should assess when it’s acceptable to cease post-closure monitoring and maintenance activities. As a result, we have 50 different approaches to evaluating closure system effectiveness in reducing potential threats to human health and the environment. Approaches vary by state from offering no guidance to prescribed methods for determining when the waste degradation has reached a steady state.

The policy SWANA developed highlights the need for collection of proper data during operation and closure. With appropriate data, one can develop a baseline and trends that demonstrate the effectiveness of closure on leachate quality, landfill gas production, and how the final cover system has responded to settlement from the degradation of waste materials. The policy also encourages association members and the regulated community to work with state regulatory agencies to establish state and regional (when practical) performance-based evaluation processes for determining the length of MSWLF’s post-closure period. Well-defined and consistent state and regional methodologies would be advantageous to the solid waste industry. We do not need to have 50 different approaches to the same challenge!

With regionally established methods, all MSWLFs in that area would be held to the same scientific based standard of performance, and the public would have a better understanding of how potential risks have been mitigated by the facility closure. It would also make for a smoother transition of the site to custodial or long-term management and potential re-use.

Q: Who is the target audience for this policy?

JM: The main group impacted by the policy is landfill owners and operators. Both publicly owned and privately owned facilities need to comply with federal and state regulations, and all have a vested interest in constructing, operating and closing the landfills in a manner that is protective to human health and the environment. Establishing clear guidance on the expectations required for ending post-closure care will allow owners and operators to ensure that the proper amount of data is collected, and provide them with a basis for assessing effectiveness of different operational strategies prior to closure. 

This policy is especially important for private landfill owners and operators that manage facilities in multiple states. If state regulatory agencies were able to collaborate and work to establish performance based guidance and/or regulations, we would have more consistency in post-closure programs and perhaps more public confidence in the operation and performance, closure and long-term management of MSWLFs.

Q: What’s the next step in shifting the policy from a recommendation to concrete guidance or a regulation?

JM: The work has just begun. From here our goal is to start the conversation, and gain traction with state and federal regulatory agencies. There are solid examples of state programs which establish performance-based and scientific evaluation for termination of post-closure care. Other states and regions should work with their stakeholders and determine which of these current approaches best fits their program, and proceed to make appropriate adjustments.

When the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act Subtitle D solid waste regulations were established in 1991, the 30-year post-closure period seemed like it was so far into the future that the end game was not a concern. After 27 years, a number of facilities are well into their post-closure life, and have or will be seeking to terminate post-closure care. As an industry, we’re past due in establishing acceptable performance-based criteria. While every site and project will have some special circumstances, we can and need to work together to establish regional approaches and methodologies.