Pershing County landfill a model for statewide program

Pershing County Landfill Supervisor Mitch Nielsen routinely salvages potentially reusable or recyclable items while compacting household and commercial waste. Intended to save space at the county dump, Nielsen’s proactive waste reduction has attracted the state’s attention.

That’s what he told county commissioners recently. Nielsen said his waste management plan, proposed a few years ago but never officially adopted by the county, will be a model for the state’s “sustainable materials management” to promote waste reduction at other rural landfills.

“This is a budget offset program and was created the first year I was working at the landfill. It’s something that’s been kicked around but we haven’t really been able to make a decision on it,” he said. “Even though NDEP requirements ask us to do what we can for waste elimination, the state laws prevent us from doing that. I sent this rough draft to Mike Ruffner, Program Development Manager at NDEP who used to be our (landfill) inspector.”

Pershing County could be a model for the grant-funded “sustainability” program. Other counties that may participate include Lander, Eureka, Mineral, Esmerelda and northern Nye County.

“They want to take the rough draft of this program and phase it into all of Nevada,” Nielsen said. “The purpose of this program is to take items that come to landfills that can be repurposed or reused and amend state laws and regulations to provide landfills the ability to sell the products.”

To illustrate how the program could work, Nielsen said discarded electric motors could be sold to electrical rewind companies that need parts instead of sending the motors to scrap metal yards.

“This would give them an avenue to do that,” he said. “It’s a matter of working with the public and private businesses so we can eliminate a lot of waste. 

The rough draft details pallets, railroad ties and other things that could be reused, not just dropped at landfills. We’re designing a plan to work statewide and mainly focusing on the rural landfills because of the limited funds.”

Funds generated could be used to purchase expensive equipment to be shared by rural counties such as wood chippers and tire shredders, Nielsen said. Such equipment may become essential if tighter federal environmental regulations continue to be imposed on landfills.

“This program could bring equipment that the various landfills could share. Our ability to burn brush piles and lumber may be going away due to stricter air quality regulations,” Nielsen said. “This program will hopefully help offset changing regulations by completely eliminating this stuff from the landfills altogether.”

At the Pershing County Landfill, the public can already help by depositing old appliances and other scrap metal in separate piles for collection by a scrap metal company. Changes in state regulations could mean salvage and recycling companies could operate at county landfills.

“We’re using Simms Metal out of Reno to come out and get our metal,” Nielsen said. “This may open it up so the landfills can allow someone to operate on site. Kind of a satellite operation to make it more efficient for them to collect from, say, three counties in this area.”

There have been piles for tires, mattresses, electronics and heavy plastic until the market for that disappeared. Items salvaged from the waste stream, such as bicycles, are set aside for an unknown fate. Nielsen created a trash fence using discarded mattress springs and truck tires. 

Boulders, bricks, railroad ties and other materials could be sold by the ton but there’s no scale to weigh the materials or electrical power to operate a scale at the county landfill, Nielsen said.

“Scales require power and my last quote for power at the landfill was $275,000,” he told the commission. “I talked to Black Rock Solar about six or seven years ago about solar and wind generation. Lord knows, we get plenty of wind up there and we could definitely use windmills.”

The waste reduction program could increase tax revenues and jobs in rural areas and changes in state regulations could permit more waste reduction activities of interest to local residents.

“Ely has an individual that owns a trucking company that moves a lot of their recyclables out of the landfill,” Nielsen said. “We could do a repurpose program through the landfill but everything would have to go to the recycling center. There are a lot of changes and program development to do but the state would like to have me involved in it and be available for their meetings.”

Mike Ruffner, Branch Supervisor for NDEP’s Bureau of Sustainable Materials Management, confirmed that a new waste reduction program is in the works. The pilot program will start in October in a few rural counties with the Pershing County landfill serving as the “model” for waste reduction. Ruffner credited Nielsen for leading the way and ideas that will enhance the program.

“The Pershing County Landfill has essentially pioneered the direction we would like to go with most of the rural landfills out in Nevada. They do a lot of recovery instead of disposal,” Ruffner explained. “We are using the Pershing County Landfill as a model to start up a statewide program in October. We’re planning to use the model Mitch has created to spread that out so landfills can utilize elements they receive of commercial value as a potential revenue source to carry on household hazardous waste collection events.” 

The hazardous waste collection events are intended to keep hazardous waste, such as car batteries and waste oil, out of landfills and potentially impacting groundwater, he said. Nielsen has made a concerted effort to help the public keep hazardous waste out of the local landfill.

“The pilot program will culminate with household hazardous waste collection events,” Ruffner said. “Mitch is one of the good ones and we are very happy to be working with him.”

The NDEP website states that each community will customize their waste program.

“Each community values each material differently, utilizes different materials more than others and will have the chance to choose which materials to recycle or repurpose in their area. What works for one county may not work for the next due to geographic differences, population variety, workforce types, etc.”