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11 Mindblowing Facts About the US's Biggest Active Landfill in Puente Hills (It Has Its Own Microclimate)

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The terrific Geoff Manaugh (of BLDGBLOG) and Nicola Twilley (of Edible Geography) recently visited the staggeringly huge Puente Hills landfill near Whittier--it's the biggest active municipal landfill in the United States, but it's shutting up shop (at least as a dump) in October this year. (It'll be replaced by the "much larger" Mesquite Regional Landfill in the Imperial Valley.) Puente Hills opened in 1957 and the LA County Sanitation Districts has been running it since 1970. The details of its size and operations are genuinely mindblowing:

-- Puente Hills sits on 1,365 acres--half of that is buffer zone and wildlife preserve, the trash part is "roughly the size of New York City's Central Park."
-- The landfill takes in about a third of LA County's trash.
-- The landfill is the height of a 40-story building--the book Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash notes that if it actually were a building, "it would be among the twenty tallest skyscrapers in Los Angeles, beating out the MGM Tower, Fox Plaza, and Los Angeles City Hall."

-- In the past 30 years, "Puente Hills has received nearly 130 million tons of garbage." Garbology attempts to make that comprehendable: "If Puente Hills were an elephant burial ground, its tonnage would represent about 15 million deceased pachyderms--equivalent to every living elephant on earth, times twenty."
-- The "active dumping site" each day at Puente Hills "is usually about an acre in area, and twenty feet deep."
-- "Puente Hills' daily construction cycle ends at 5 p.m.--or whenever the daily intake limit of 13,000 tons has been reached, which, before the recession, would happen as early as 1 p.m.--at which point, its machine operators use laser-guided markers to level the top of the mound, and then cover it with a twelve-inch layer of clean dirt and green waste."
-- The landfill site is huge enough "to generate its own microclimate and wind patterns--with the effect that several gigantic fans and berms dot the edges of the plateau, to keep wind from blowing over residential areas of Whittier."
-- "In January," according to the rep, "it actually smells really quite nice, because of all the mulched-up Christmas trees."
-- Decomposing garbage releases "landfill gas" (methane/carbon dioxide/and traces of other gases)--PH was an early adopter in converting the gas to energy and now the Puente Hills Energy Recovery from Gas facility "generates more than forty megawatts of electricity per day from more than 30,000 cubic feet per minute of landfill gas." (The landfill will keep generating gas for another 15 or 20 years after it closes.)
-- The landfill sort of predicted the recession somehow. At the end of 2007, "Puente Hills was like a ghost town. People who had worked here for forty years had never seen anything like it," according to a rep. In summer 2007, it saw 1,900 trucks a day, "thirty or forty of which would be loaded with construction debris." By the end of the year, there were only about 400 trucks coming in every day.
-- Next up for Puente Hills: it'll be landscaped over to become a county park.
· Touring the Largest Active Landfill in America [The Atlantic]