NEW CELL: Gathers Trash, Energy And More

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With more than 2,000 tons of incoming garbage a day, Metro Waste Authority's eastside landfill is the largest in Iowa. But it's also the most technologically advanced.

It's the latest newest project to take another step toward cleaning up our trash.

Call it a mess or even an eyesore - just don’t call it a dump.

“The dumps of yesteryear were pre-regulation," says Jeff Dworek, director of operations at Iowa's largest landfill, "back when you would just take a lot of material, dump it in a hole.”

These days, it’s the "landfill," and at the one run by Metro Waste Authority, there’s a brand new... hole?

“No, we don’t like that, it’s not a hole," Dworek smiles. "Actually, it’s the 'cell.'”

In Jeff’s defense, this is quite an endeavor.  The new cell covers 10 acres and cost over $2-million.  Under the mountain of garbage, you’ll find modern engineering.

The landfill is completely contained but it yields two environmental undesirables. Methane gas, which is piped out, and poisonous leachate started by rainwater.

“It percolates through the garbage and goes to the bottom," he explains, "and before it gets to the liner, we collect that leachate and have to treat it.”

Methane is the stink you smell, but in a new cell, they call that the smell of money.

“We gather it," says Reo Manning, communications director at Metro Waste Authority, "and then we’re really fortunate to be able to convert that into electricity through this methane recovery plant.”

A larger recovery plant will be online soon and will be able to power 11,000 area homes.

More advances in waste recovery could help lighten the 1-million-ton load that will fill the new cell. It's more treasure in what even these guys still call “trash”

“Someday, we hope to be calling it a 'resource,'” says Dworek.

And by then, maybe even the term “landfill” will be obsolete.