How did we get here?
Did you know that Los Angeles sends most of its waste to the landfills in and near the Santa Clarita Valley? The Santa Clarita Valley is home to two of the largest landfills in the nation, yet the issue of waste has remained fairly hidden.
Community engagement in local environmental issues has been historically low in Santa Clarita. How do students, researchers and community activists better engage their communities regarding important issues? Learn Beyond the Book is a learning enrichment center for Santa Clarita's growing homeschooler population. Classes are unit and project-based, which allows for more flexibility and focus to delve into an issue like landfills and waste transportation.
Poring through data, connecting cause to effect, has little reward or impact if the work product does not make its way out into the world, in the hands and minds of people who are affected by local environmental and social justice issues. Explaining how you got from step A to step B, C, D, E, et cetera is difficult when you are lost in the data weeds. Teaching is a wonderful way to share what you have learned about a subject and to help further your own knowledge. It also serves as a reminder to simplify what you have learned in order to advocate.
Inviting children to learn along with me for the SoCal Waste Stream Mapping Project not only provides an opportunities to learn about better ways to do outreach, it provides opportunities for students to be actively involved in their local environment, rather than blankly reciting reduce-reuse-recycle.
We want to learn how the waste industry affects our local community by understanding the waste stream and feel empowered and inspired by what we learn.
What Do We Know?
Chiquita Canyon Landfill is located adjacent to Santa Clarita California, just at the Northwest edge of Santa Clarita. The landfill is permitted to accept 6,000 tons/day. In addition to the permitted waste amount, they can receive an additional 4,500 tons of special waste per day that can be used as daily cover for active waste cells. Last year, Chiquita accepted over 1.5 million tons of waste, the vast majority of it originating outside of Santa Clarita. The landfill is currently seeking a new conditional use permit in order to continue operations, even though the current limit of 23 million tons has been exceeded. Chiquita is owned by a private company and not run by the County of Los Angeles nor the City of Santa Clarita.
Sunshine Canyon Landfill is located South of the Newhall Pass, in Sylmar, California and is permitted to receive 8,500 tons per day, in addition to . Sunshine Canyon Landfill has been controversial, as it is people who live nearby. There is an active class-action lawsuit accept slightly more waste, over 2 million tons per day. Like Chiquita Canyon, traffic to and from Sunshine Canyon Landfill affect road conditions and traffic locally.
Los Angeles County taxpayers paid a half a billion dollars for the construction of a waste-by-rail system that ships waste to Mesquite Regional Landfill in Imperial County, but operated by the County of Los Angeles. Presently, Mesquite is fully operational and permitted, but sits unused. There are loading yards on site that using existing transfer stations and infrastructure to handle waste; construction for an important rail yard was just completed. Waste from Los Angeles County's busiest waste sorting facility can be shipped directly to Mesquite Regional Landfill, without the use of roads.
We discovered by going through data during class, that Los Angeles County and Orange County have the highest ratio of transfer stations to landfills.
What have we done so far?
1. Introduced the Project and the Problem:
We talked about how waste gets transported and collected and how local landfills are a thing of the past. Because living next to waste transportation and landfills is undesirable, we . We also discussed how the best-studied impact from waste operations comes from studying greenhouse gas emissions from waste hauling.
We also discussed the Public Lab's work and the Waste Stream Mapping Project. We talked about how they will contribute to the main project by learning along with the Public Lab community.
"Our first meeting, we talked about how landfills work and how much the landfills are able to take in and how much fuel it takes to transport it to all the landfills in Santa Clarita, and how they transport it here." -Kylee, Student
2. How Do Landfills Work?
We learned that waste trucks cause more smog. Because there are many trucks coming in and out of Santa Clarita, the air quality in my community is so bad that we live in an nonattainment zone. A nonattainment zone means that ozone, or other pollutants, are too high in the area. Some people might think that a nonattainment zone might be good, but it means that pollution is so bad, you can't add any more to it. Pollution gets trapped in the Santa Clarita valley, because we live in a bowl.-Brennan, Student
Leachate is the stuff that is toxic to groundwater and to humans. Leachate is created by water passing through the trash in a landfill. -Linden, Student
3. Let's Make a Model!
Because the course is an art and recycling class, we worked on making a model from discarded and unused items we had lying around. We used leftover sorghum board that I had from a bygone unfinished project and stacked it using smaller pieces of wood, simulating a canyon-fill landfill.
Then, we lined the floor of the model, using Gorilla tape and cut up contractor bags.
"When talking about landfill liner failure, students were completely transfixed by the knowledge that all liners eventually leak. There was this moment when I was ready to transition to a new topic and the students were not ready to move on. 'All liners eventually leak? But then why do we use them?' " -Sara Sage, Project Lead
4. What Do the Numbers Mean?
We had students look through a simple spreadsheet to give them a chance to see the data and offer their own contributions. Shortly after reviewing a file with a list of active and permitted waste facilities, their questions were along the lines of, "why are there so many transfer stations in this county, but not that one or this one?"
We did some basic math and calculated transfer station-to-landfill ratios for the 10 Southern California counties that we are evaluating:
Is there a waste-logistics or waste-permitting practice that correlates with these ratios? We plan to investigate further.
In class we found that our ratio is second worst in the Southern California, second only to Orange County. We discussed myriad of problems that occur around pollution and road wear due to this amount of traffic. We wonder why so much waste is being dumped in our backyards? We are worried about our health risks, our water quality, our air quality. -Ms. E., Instructor
We learned a ton today! We researched on Cal Recycle and found that there are 209 transfer sites and only 10 landfills in Los Angeles County -- so 21:1. This is excessive. -Lucas, Student
5. Let's Go Balloon Mapping!
Thanks to enthusiastic volunteers and a small funding grant from Public Lab, we will host a balloon-mapping workshop near Chiquita Canyon Landfill on December 9th, 2016!
We gathered lots of DIY-friendly supplies such as velcro ties, carabiners and rubberbands, then watched a helpful video from Public Labber, Matthew Lippincott.
The class came up with their own solution: a braided rubber-band cable for more strength and an H-shaped harness for the camera.
Next week we will do some tests with a spring dynamometer to see if we can simultaneously reduce weight and torque before the workshop.
Where Do We Go From Here?
- What does a high ratio of transfer stations to landfills indicate?
Why I'm interested
Improving knowledge about the way waste moves around regionally will help us to make more-informed decisions locally.