Case Study: Integrating Geospatial Data, LiDAR, Drones,GPS & CAD for Landfills

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by Caleb Cass PE, Director of Engineering.

With the recent innovations brought about in drone technology, procuring and using digital geospatial data is quickly becoming a necessary and valuable commodity. This paper will look into the geospatial data that is collected and produced for the operation, permitting, tracking, and planning of solid waste sites. This includes technologies such as laser (Lidar) scanning, drone photogrammetry and Lidar, GPS surveying, and digital design les produced in programs like AutoCAD and Microstation. All of these digital data types are important for managing landfill operations and planning activities. However, there is still confusion surrounding digital data and how it can be used. Asset owners, consultants, and service providers all seek clarity about different types of digital data and how they can be used in conjunction with each other and integrated to provide useful information, track metrics and produce deliverables.

Readers will gain a basic understanding of geospatial concepts related to landfills, including coordinate systems and the importance of survey control. They will also learn the differences and similarities between data formats and for what they are effectively used for. Finally, we will go over the need for and process of combining data from various vendors and different technologies to produce actionable results.

Click here to download the full case study by Caleb Cass PE, Firmatek Director of Engineering.

Creativity in Waste Management: Companies Improving Landfills for Neighbors

Landfill management is a tough job that often requires creative thinking.

To the average person, this isn’t so obvious. After all, how fussy can solid waste be?

The industry professional, however, understands that solid waste can in fact be a fussy thing, especially at scale, especially over the lifetime of a landfill.

Previously, we took a look at the technology revolutionizing landfill management. Now, let’s take a look at some of the companies pushing those frontiers.

Here are 10 that deserve special recognition.


BiOWiSH and Gulf Scientific Gateway Help Control Waste Odors for Pilgrims in Saudi Arabia

If you’ve even been to a music festival, a state fair or even an RV park, you know how much trash mobile groups of people can create.

That’s long been a problem in Saudi Arabia, which sees some 2 million pilgrims every year during the annual Hajj pilgrimage. With crowds of that size, it’s not enough to simply have ample garbage trucks and waste sites — the Saudis do. At that size, even getting to all of the trash receptacles in anything close to a timely manner is impossible.

The team at BiOWiSH Technologies in Cincinnati explains:

“Large garbage trucks are available and waiting to remove the garbage from the bins, but they cannot get into these spaces that are congested with pilgrims. The religious travelers throw trash into big bins and since it cannot be removed promptly, it causes odors. The trash attracts flies.

“To elaborate, large garbage trucks are used at the end of the five days. The infrastructure has 1400 small compactor units distributed throughout the area of Mina. Garbage bags are dumped into these and the compactors crush them. At the bottom of these, liquid leaches out and generates gases such as hydrogen sulphide and ammonia. These have noxious odours.”

So, in 2014 one of BiOWiSH’s distributors, Gulf Scientific Gateway in Qatar, began to spray the trash compactors with BiOWiSH’s 100-percent natural products to control those odors. That way, the problem of odors and flies could be tackled at specific hot spots. The theory was this would reduce the flies the trash would attract, and thus the pesticides Hajj organizers used in the past to control the flies.

Saudi authorities reported the pilot program was a success. “The use of pesticides was reduced considerably according to the Hajj operations management team,” said Gulf Scientific Gateway’s Dr. Azahar Iqbal. “They also noticed a significant reduction in medicines given out by the Kingdom for coughs and infections.”


Waste Management Turns Methane Into Fuel in Kentucky

Numerous companies around the world have understood the potential for waste as a fuel, but few companies have the resources of an organization like Waste Management, which in February announced it would begin to harness methane emissions at a Louisville area landfill site and turn it into fuel.

WM public sector manager Andy Reynolds tells local news station WDRB that the company actually burns off the methane gas emission in a flare, and that WM is investing $30 million in technology that would put that energy right back into natural gas pipelines.

He estimates that the natural gas that could be harvested from a single landfill every day would be enough to power 12,000 homes.


TriAD Does the Necessary Legwork to Get Commercial Landfill Client Compliant

Sometimes, however, big wins in the waste management world don’t come via technological breakthroughs or innovative thinking. Sometimes, progress is the result of having smart people working diligently to understand and comply with regulations.

Take TriAD Environmental Consultants in Nashville. The team there works with landfill developers every day to conduct subsurface investigations, prepare all of the plans and estimates necessary to secure permits, and pull together specs and construction plans to ensure their clients’ bids are successful.

That’s a lot of hard work that often goes unrecognized. But as a result, the developers TriAD works with can bring ignored or forgotten landfill sites into the fold and apply industry best practices to ensure those sites remain safe for their communities.


Wasteserv in Malta Spearheading European Campaign to Improve Landfill Regulations

In a similar vein, Maltese waste management operator Wasteserv announced in January it would be working with other waste management companies and regulatory agencies in the European Union to share local landfill management best practices and to create new economic opportunities.

Wasteserv naturally has its work cut out for it — the company operates on a small Mediterranean island nation that simply doesn’t have the space for large landfill sites. Creativity must be baked into any waste management approach there, and Wasteserv hopes to share those ideas with partners from Cyprus, Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain.

“As a result of landfill management projects, the recovery of resources as well as land recovery is increased while future environmental hazards can be avoided,” the company tells local news outlet Malta Today. “Moreover, landfill management projects generate economic development opportunities and create new green jobs, all within the context of an EU-wide transition to a resilient, low-carbon, circular economy.”


Croxley Recycling Helps Remove Hazardous Material from Landfills in South Pacific

In the same way as Malta, the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu has to be creative with its waste management practices. But because of local habits, some 80 percent of what ends up in local landfills is actually recyclable, says the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP).

So, in 2013 the municipality of Luganville (the country’s second largest city) partnered with New Zealand recycling company Croxley to help create a new local habit: Recycling printer cartridges. The municipal government began to place cartridge drop bins all around the city and actively encouraged residents to get in the habit of using them.

It’s a small step, but a necessary one to initiate bigger conversations around recycling and waste management. “The goal of this new initiative is to raise awareness and understanding of hazardous waste among the population and to foster environmentally-responsible behaviour in customers whereby they return empty cartridges when purchasing new ones,” SPREP writes.

“The programme encourages separation of waste at source and demonstrates to residents and businesses that the Municipality is ‘walking the talk’ by taking the initiative to manage hazardous waste streams.”


Republic Services Contributes to Georgia Power Grid With Landfill Gas-to-Energy Project

Republic Services is another company that recognizes the gas-to-energy potential of landfills, and in 2016 the company announced a project that would tap into the emissions at three Georgia landfills to generate 24.1 megawatts of electricity, which would otherwise have been generated by dirtier fuels.

“According to the EPA, 3 MW of renewable energy generated by landfill gas-to-energy projects is equal to preventing the carbon emissions emitted by the use 16.6 million gallons of gasoline,” Jessica Lyons Hardcastle at Environmental Leader writes. “Based upon EPA calculations, this project prevents carbon emissions that would otherwise be emitted by the use of more than 132 million gallons of gasoline.”


Enviro Cover Helps a Canyon Fill Site in Los Angeles Design a System for Daily Coverage

Sometimes, something as ostensibly simple as covering a landfill requires creative solutions because of topography of the site. Take the Puente Hills Landfill in Los Angeles, the country’s largest, where the daily cover might need to be strong enough to hold up for days or weeks at a time — but still made of materials that keep the cover within budget.

After a few other companies took their best shots, the team at Enviro Cover System came up with a workable solution: A polyethylene film designed to last for four weeks, and unfurled with a deployer that unrolls and secures the film in place. Afterward, the film is covered with mounds of soil that serve as ballast.

With this system, the site managers at Puente Hills can manage odors, scavengers and disease vectors for weeks at a time, even in wet conditions.


Denmark’s Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects Helps Build Largest Waste-to-Energy Plant in the World in Shenzhen

Now, let’s scale the waste management challenge up by a factor of 50.

That’s roughly how much bigger China’s Shenzhen East Waste-to-Energy Plant is than the Puente Hills Landfill. At such a scale, site managers need more than durable covers; they needed a team of architects to devise a way to contain the waste in a single place, where it could be turned to energy.

Enter Schmidt Hammer Lassen, a Danish architecture firm. The SHL team partnered with Gottlieb Paludan Architects to create this award-winning design:

Shenzhen East Waste-to-Energy Plant_SHL_GPA from SHL Architects on Vimeo.


Geosyntec Helps Stabilize SoCal Airport Built On Top Of Former Landfill

Here is a good example of where the lifecycle management of landfills comes into play. At some point, many landfills are covered and begin new lives as parks or nature preserves.

Or in some cases, they become the sites where airports are built, as is the case with McClellan-Palomar Airport in Carlsbad, California. Because that ground is now supporting such critical (and heavy) infrastructure, the ground needs to be monitored frequently to check for any problems or changes.

Recently, the County of San Diego Department of Public Works sought to upgrade the airport with a new terminal, a pedestrian bridge, additional parking and other necessary improvements.

That’s where Geosyntec Consultants came in. They helped airport management with subsurface, geotechnical investigations to evaluate everything from thermal output to the site’s resilience during an earthquake.

You might not normally connect landfills with the safety of air travelers, but in this case that was precisely what was on the line.


Agru America Turns Connecticut Landfill Into Solar Power Plant

Methane-to-gas conversion isn’t the only way to harvest the energy-generation potential of a landfill. In 2011, the managers at the Hartford Connecticut Landfill sought to devote some of the site’s 35 acres to generating solar energy.

For that project, they tapped Agru America, whose ClosureTurf product appeared a viable option as something that could cap the landfill and support solar arrays — but the company had never tried this before.

It proved to be a better alternative than vegetation cover, however, because it wasn’t susceptible to erosion, and it also left room for drainage layers so water could run down the site without disrupting the foundations that support the solar panels.

Today, a five-acre solar array sits at the pinnacle of the old landfill, and at capacity it produces enough energy to power 1,000 homes.

images by: 1103489, tpsdave, Dimitris Vetsikas

5 Creative Ways Developers Have Given New Lives to Old Landfills



Landfill development projects can be excellent ways to turn solid waste disposal sites into spaces that serve a whole new purpose — the site of a new building or green space, for example.

But landfill development is a much trickier process than it might seem, and many of the challenges inherent in these projects stem from the waste itself. As Green Building Advisor points out:

  • solid waste creates unstable foundations for larger developments,
  • and leachate can ruin the soil or groundwater around a site if it isn’t properly contained.

Still, these are engineering problems, not deal-breakers. More than anything, landfill developers and community stakeholders simply need patience with these projects. “I always tell my clients they need to anticipate a very lengthy timeframe for getting the approvals needed,” Anna Amarandos, an attorney at Rutan & Tucker in California who specializes in environmental law, tells ConstructionDIVE.

There are scores of examples all around the United States of landfills that have been recycled and given new life. Here are five examples of what repurposed landfills have become in their new lives.


Solar Parks

What better way to repurpose an old waste site than to turn it into a renewable energy power station by covering it in solar arrays? Several cities in the United States are exploring this option right now.

In Portland, Maine, the city council passed a unanimous resolution in September to build one of the larger municipal solar arrays in the state on top of its old Ocean Avenue landfill, Dennis Hoey at the Portland Press Herald reports.

According to Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling, the project would reduce the city’s electricity dependence on fossil fuel by 25 percent over the next decade, and it wouldn’t cost the city much money at all, only about $150,000 over the project’s first six years.

Bangor City Council Member Sean Faircloth says the 660 kilowatt array will generate enough electricity to power Portland’s city hall.

Down in Charlotte, North Carolina, the city council approved a lease in November that would rent 22 acres of long-unused landfill space to a solar company, Bruce Henderson at The Charlotte Observer reports.

“The company that leased part of the Statesville Road landfill, Momentum Solar LLC, will spend a year on further study of the site’s suitability for solar energy,” Henderson writes. “Permitting and other details could add years more to it development, but Momentum believes the site could support a 2- or 3- megawatt system. That output would be enough to supply 360 to 540 homes for a year.”


Golf Courses

Developers have long recognized that the vast, rolling landscapes they can build on top of old landfill sites are perfect for golf courses. Golf Vacation Insider has a piece on various sites that were reclaimed and repurposed as golf courses, including the Park Ridge golf course in Lake Worth, Florida.

“Thinking about the Palm Beach area conjures visions of blue ocean water, palm trees and amazing wealth,” the piece reads. “So it’s strange that one of the area’s best public golf courses is a ‘brownfields’ (former landfill) course.”

A few other such brownfields courses include


Park Spaces

Green spaces don’t need to be groomed for golfers, exclusively. Many excellent parks have been built on top of old landfills, too, providing recreational options to city residents all around the country.

Steve Scauzillo at the San Gabriel Valley Tribune reports that the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted in October to accept a report that included a plan to build a park on top of the Puente Hills Landfill in East LA. That plan calls for the construction of “trails and other amenities such as a giant slide, a gondola ride taking visitors to the top and back, an amphitheater, a zip line, stair climbs and a bicycle skills course,” Scauzillo writes.

And up in the Bay Area, the city of Berkeley has long enjoyed its Cesar Chavez waterfront park, built in 1991 on top of a peninsular landfill that jutted out into the bay. Now, it’s a place where residents can take in some pretty breathtaking views, and it’s also the site of an annual kite festival, as featured in Atlas Obscura.


Retail Centers

At sites where the ground can be stabilized sufficiently to support large construction works, some developers have found old landfills can become excellent commercial areas.

In Carson, California, for example, city authorities had marked a former landfill site as a place that could support an NFL-sized football stadium, if the Raiders or Chargers were to relocate to the LA area.

When the NFL passed, Sandy Mazza at the Daily Breeze reports, the city council voted to begin negotiations for turning part of the 157-acre site into an upscale outlet mall.

“[Macerich Real Estate Co., the developer] wants to erect a 500,000-square-foot outlet center with 150 high-end stores that would take up a fourth of the site,” Mazza says. “Macerich promised to front the city $1 million to cover fees for preparing the documents to pass over control of the land, and $250,000 of that is slated to go into the city’s community nonprofit fund.”

She also reports that the city estimates the site would generate $4 million annually from sales taxes.


Wildlife Conservation Sites

Dora Chi, writing for the National Audubon Society, has an excellent piece on the Rio Salado Restoration Habitat in Phoenix, a 600-acre former landfill, now protected land, that is once again providing a home to native burrowing owls, whose communities were uprooted as Phoenix grew rapidly in the 20th Century.

Today, the city is encouraging all citizens to build makeshift burrows for these owls, and to note any sightings on a specially designed smartphone app so local scientists can track the species’ repopulation.

These owls aren’t the only species returning to their native habitats thanks to the restoration project. Officials also report that monarch butterfly populations have been growing year-after-year since 2011, taking refuge in the cottonwood and willow trees when Phoenix’s summer heat reaches triple digits.
images by: David Ragusa, Viktor Kiryanov, Gerry Roarty