MOUNT AIRY, N.C. — Several counties across our state saw a significant increase in the amount of trash and recycling being taken to their facilities during the pandemic.
While some landfills don't have much life left, others are in good shape.
James Walsh has been working at the Surry County Landfill for three years as a heavy equipment operator.
Walsh says he's always been a big automotive and motorcycle enthusiast, so he emphasizes anything with an engine has always made him smile.
"I want to say it's somewhere between 100 and 110,000 pounds, so it's fun. I basically drive a monster truck every day for work," Walsh emphasized.
Walsh says in the few years he's been working there, they are always making changes to improve how it operates.
In 2020, Walsh says they expanded their landfill cell by 18 acres to give the landfill almost 28 years of life.
"We're trying new things. We used to cover with dirt, but we now have a machine where we cover with tarp so we can save on fuel," Walsh explained.
Another heavy equipment operator, Zarek Holt, is sorting through plastic to make sure only the good plastic gets recycled.
He adds recycling trends are always changing, but he says recently glass has been a lot harder to recycle, because there's not a big market for it.
Holt emphasizes anything you can do to recycle or reuse material can help slow the landfill from filling up.
"Sort through, make sure you get your recyclables out and anything you take to the landfill if it does have recyclables, sort it out and bring it up here," Holt said.
According to the North Carolina Solid Waste and Materials Annual Report from 2015, annually generated wastes have fluctuated since 1991, reaching a high around 2007. After a couple of down years, the amount of waste is trending up again, which means the average person in the state is responsible for generating more than a ton of trash.
The report adds the remaining capacity of North Carolina landfills is just over 29 years. While the landfills are still trying to come up with new ways to help save time and space, Walsh is also still learning new ways he can compact more efficiently.
"I'm still learning, as I've said I've been here for three years. This is my first heavy equipment job, but I still have a lot to learn," Walsh said.
Walsh is happy that even with almost 30 years of life at this landfill, there's still more land available to expand.
North Carolina reached the highest rate of residents served by curbside recycling programs to date in 2015 with almost two million households receiving collection from over hundred local curbside programs, according to the North Carolina Solid Waste and Materials Report.
Landfills are hoping this number will continue to increase to help save the landfills from filling up.