California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) 

Beyond 2000: California's Continuing Need for Landfills

Ensuring Environmentally Safe Landfills

Adequate landfill capacity alone, without first-rate environmental protection, is not enough. California will never again tolerate the garbage dumps of the past. We must have state-of-the-art, environmentally safe landfills. To achieve this goal, CalRecycle oversees a comprehensive regulatory system in cooperation with other responsible environmental agencies and landfill operators. This regulatory system starts with the planning and construction of a landfill, continues through its operation, and remains in effect for 30 years after closure. Before construction begins on a new or expanded landfill, the proposal must undergo a rigorous scrutiny, consisting of the following major steps:

  • Site Selection: The operator must analyze and test alternative sites to show that site geology and topography will prevent water pollution, flooding, earthquake hazards, and other adverse effects. Also, the site must be remote enough from homes, schools, airports, and other sensitive human activities so as not to cause any adverse effects.
  • Environmental Review: An environmental analysis, and in most cases a full environmental impact report, must be prepared to show how all possible adverse environmental impacts will be mitigated.
  • Engineering: A detailed engineering design must be prepared, covering every aspect of the landfill site, its construction and operation, and its environmental protection systems.
  • Land Use Approval: The local planning agency must certify that the site is in conformance with the city or county general plan, the local zoning code, and the county or regional integrated waste management plan.
  • Air Quality Permit Approval: The local or regional air quality management must certify that accurate measures will be taken by the operator to monitor and control all anticipated emissions.
  • Water Quality Control Approval: The Regional Water Quality Control Board must adopt waste discharge requirements that the operator must follow to protect surface and ground water quality.
  • Solid Waste Facility Permit Approval: Only after all of the foregoing approvals have been obtained may this permit be issued by the solid waste local enforcement agency, with the concurrence of the California Integrated Waste Management Board. It must also be shown that the landfill can meet all state operating standards and has an approved closure plan, a post-closure maintenance and monitoring plan, and proof of financial responsibility in the event of any liability.

Public hearings are held before any of the above approvals and permits are granted. The result is today's modern, state-of-the-art landfill.

Cross Section of a modern landfill.

Select the picture above to see a larger version.

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Last updated: May 28, 2003
Martin Perez: (916) 323-0834