Trash Talk: The national issue of rising waste

How dealing with human waste has become a central issue for the city of Burnsville, Minnesota. 

Residents of Burnsville, Minnesota are facing a dilemma. The amount of trash within the community is rising, and people are conflicted about how the city should respond to it. 

At the center of the issue is the Burnsville Sanitary Landfill, where city officials have proposed a project to expand the current capacity of garbage to nearly 23.6 million cubic yards and a height of 1,082 feet in total.  

With no new landfills due to be announced in the metropolitan area because of economic reasons, the city council gave the green light to create an expansion on the current city landfill after planning for years.

Senior Planner and Community Development Director for the Burnsville City Council, Jenni Faulkner, has been working on the expansion plan since her appointment to office in the early 2000s.

“We are huge consumers,” Faulkner says. “All of us are contributing to this issue. The trash does not go away. We don’t think about [it] because we are such a society of [consumers], and that’s been acceptable to us.”

The plan to expand the Burnsville Sanitary Landfill was on its way to being implemented until citizens rejected the council’s plan over worries of permeating smells and trash obscuring the skyline. 

Local residents have spoken out against the “garbage mountain” to prevent its development.

An online petition, started by the organization, Friends of the Minnesota Valley, has more than 400 signatures. Many individuals expressed concerns that increasing the height capacity of the landfill to 1,082 feet will damage local wildlife and dampen the overall image of the community. 

“We need to come to the table to create better solutions than a mountain of trash that can be a potential environmental hazard; affect the quality of life of residents and businesses in the area through the noise, smell, and pollution; and will easily be seen throughout the Minnesota River Valley,” states the petition. 

The Executive Director of Friends of the Minnesota Valley and Izaak Walton League of America Chapter President, Ted Suss, explained the environmental side of the issue.

“The first frustration is, as with so many issues, the vast majority of the population is unaware—partially because they don’t care,” Suss says.

Suss noted how the current landfill holds a small fraction of Burnsville’s waste; the majority of the waste comes from other cities in and out of state. 

Suss points out that the issue at stake is the possibility that nearby Minnesota rivers could overflow due to flooding if the landfill were to be expanded. The river could cut into the side of the landfill where the waste could collapse into the water and eventually enter the Mississippi River as it poses a major flood risk. 

Suss also mentioned how houses built in Bloomington, that currently see a vista of the sun every morning, would be blocked due to the rising pile of garbage.

He raised the “very real possibility” of having polluted groundwater from the expanded landfill seep into city wells.  

“We’re all in this together,” Suss says. “If some of us are harmed, all of us are harmed.”

Even though the problem occurs in the Burnsville community, Faulkner emphasized that it can easily become troublesome to neighboring states. 

“Anybody, any region, or any city-state that has a landfill should be concerned about what is happening in their adjacent jurisdictions,” Faulkner says. “There aren’t gates keeping trash out. They go where the market is.”