There's a lot of science going into handling and disposing of the 200,000 tons of trash generated each year in Sussex County. Since the Southern Solid Waste Management Center landfill started operation in 1984, nearly 5 million tons of waste have been dumped at the site along Route 20 near Hardscrabble.
Three cells are filled and a fourth is nearing its capacity at the 570-acre facility, also known as Jone's Crossroads. A fifth cell has been constructed and went into operation in late May, said James Vescovi, facility manager.
Today, 22 people are employed at the facility.
A telltale sign of the growth of the county is about half of the total waste disposed of at the 29-year-old landfill has been hauled there over the past eight years. At 200 feet above sea level, the landfill is by far the highest point on the Sussex landscape.
The first cell, constructed at a cost of $2.5 million, opened for business in 1984. Cell 2 opened in 1988; cell 3 in 1996; and cell 4 in 2000. Construction of cell 4 cost nearly $12 million. Cells 1 and 2 are covered in polypropylene; cell 3 has been merged with cell 4.
There is no more monitored acreage in the county. The air, groundwater, soil and even stormwater is monitored and must meet strict Environmental Protection Agency guidelines monitored by Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. And as much as possible is recycled.
Since the cells are eventually covered and moisture is restricted, decomposition slows and becomes stable. More moisture can be added to reactivate decomposition, but more methane gas is also produced, Vescovi said. "Now we don't need more gas," he said.
On an average day, about 360 vehicles deposit about 725 tons of trash per day at the landfill. Vescovi said the landfill's busiest day occurred on Sept. 18, 2003, the day after Hurricane Isabel passed off the coast. Nearly 940 customers went through the weigh station in 10 hours – that's 94 vehicles per hour.