Landfill slopes that have reached final grades, or will receive waste in the distant future have maintenance challenges. Environmental elements continually affect surface conditions, and remedial work is required routinely to prevent negative outcomes of exposed slopes. Consider using a geomembrane temporary cap to address much of the maintenance. Here’s a list showing how the cap can help:
Landfill Maintenance Challenge
With Geomembrane Temporary Cap
The significant maintenance savings by using a temporary cap make the payoff period for the investment attractive. Based on my experience and site variations, the return on investment is usually three to six years. The period is considerably shorter if your landfill does not have a leachate disposal or treatment system, or deep injection well. The difference is the high cost to have the leachate hauled away.
Temporary caps potentially reduce routine maintenance work, leaving operation staff available for other tasks. The cap provides peace of mind that slopes remain in compliance; regulators don’t need to report non-compliance conditions of exposed slopes during inspection events.
After completing 25 temporary cap projects in the U.S. Southeast alone, we highly recommend using a thick geomembrane. It’s tempting to try to save money using a thinner geomembrane, such as 12 mils or 20 mils, but these can damage more easily and will negatively affect your return. The majority of SCS clients chose to use the recommended 40 mils thick geomembrane, which will survive severe weather conditions.
Ballasting the geomembrane and using the right materials for ballasting is significantly important. We recommend using ultraviolet (UV) resistant rope and sandbags, a tried and true system. UV resistant straps are a decent replacement for ropes. Anchoring mechanisms are also important. We typically recommend using 4×4 treated wood posts at 10-ft spacing, installed in anchor trenches, and tied to ballasting ropes. Depending on the site and operator’s preference, the supporting architecture may be to lay the post horizontally, while tied to the ballasting ropes, at the bottom of the anchor trench buried in the anchor trench’s backfill material.
Over the years, landfill operators have experienced the savings and value that temporary caps bring to landfill operating budgets, and we’re placing more temporary caps every year. If considering this option, SCS can assist you by evaluating the slopes at your site for the caps. We’ll also prepare estimates for the purchase of material and installation costs and estimated time of recovery for your project.
About the Author: Ali Khatami, Ph.D., PE, LEP, CGC, is a Project Director and a Vice President of SCS Engineers. He is also our National Expert for Elevated Temperature Landfills, plus Landfill Design and Construction Quality Assurance. He has nearly 40 years of research and professional experience in mechanical, structural, and civil engineering.
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Temporary Landfill Caps
Temporarily capping landfill slopes is becoming a common measure for landfill operators. There are many benefits to closing landfill slopes with geomembrane on a temporary basis. One of the benefits is delaying construction of the final cover. Following is a discussion of the steps that should be taken to determine whether temporarily capping the slope with geomembrane and postponing the final cover construction is a better financial/operational decision.
Constructing the final cover is costly, and it is considered an unavoidable expense that has no return on the money spent. Therefore, some operators perform a financial evaluation to determine whether the final cover construction costs can be delayed (provided, of course, that such delays are acceptable to the regulating agency). When evaluating whether to delay the final cover, the cost of maintaining the slopes during the postponement period should be considered. The operator must look at the financial aspects of either closing the slopes with a temporary geomembrane or of leaving the slopes open during the postponement period.
Temporary Landfill Capping Option
The benefits of temporarily capping the slopes during the postponement period may include:
The other side of the coin is the expense associated with the temporary cap. There may be repair costs associated with the geomembrane every few years in order to ensure that the temporary cap remains intact.
Leaving Slopes Open Option
The option of leaving the slopes open during the postponement period involves maintenance expenses such as:
The benefits of leaving the slopes open are twofold: first, the operator will save the costs of constructing the temporary cap; and second, the operator will gain additional airspace as waste settles during the postponement period.
Experience with the Temporary Capping Option
As discussed above, both options provide the benefit of gaining additional airspace during the postponement period. Constructing a temporary cap involves the costs of materials and installation, including the geomembrane and the ballasting system that keeps the geomembrane in place. Generally, the financial and non-tangible benefits of a temporary cap that remains in place five years or longer are more attractive than leaving the slopes open; therefore, most operators choose to install a temporary cap. The next step in the financial evaluation should be comparing the costs of the temporary cap to permanently closing the slopes without postponement.
Final Step in the Financial Evaluation
The next question is whether it makes financial sense to postpone the construction of the final cover.
Waste settlement during the postponement period and the resulting airspace are considered the determining financial factor in choosing the right option. If the present worth value of the airspace generated from waste settlement during the postponement period is greater than the cost to construct the temporary cap at the present time, then the temporary cap option would make financial sense; otherwise, the final cover should be constructed without postponement.
It should be noted that the length of the postponement period plays a very important role in this financial equation. Longer postponement periods have the potential for a greater gain in airspace. Another incentive that should be factored into the financial evaluation is the potential return on the money set aside for the final cover construction during the postponement period.
To assist with this financial evaluation, landfill operators are encouraged to discuss these options with their landfill engineers. Settlement models can be performed to calculate the amount of airspace that may be generated during the postponement period as well as the present worth value of the generated airspace. The returns on the final cover construction costs during the postponement will just be “icing on the cake.”
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