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National Waste & Recycling Association honors leachate disposal innovation

The National Waste & Recycling Association recognized groundwater consultant Brad Granley, P.E. of Leachate Management Specialists in Denver, and Tony Walker of Republic Services, Inc., as Community Changemakers for their work on a leachate disposal project in Biloxi, Mississippi.

Walker and Granley worked together to plant a vetiver grass system at Republic Services’ Gulf Pines landfill site – the first of its kind in the U.S. – to remove leachate through a process called phytoremediation, turning the waste product into a resource. After 2 years of operation, the project has helped sustainably dispose of nearly 3.3 million gallons of leachate from the site, resulting in environmental benefits and saving approximately $300,000 in hauling and disposal costs.

Leachate disposal to prevent leakage and other adverse effects typically requires a costly truck and pipeline operation to haul the leachate to a wastewater treatment plant. But through phytoremediation, hardy plants like vetiver grass and poplar trees planted on landfill sites consume the leachate, which contains nutrients the plants need to grow.

Granley said Walker, senior manager of environmental management with Republic Services, initially asked him about using vetiver grass for the phytoremediation system at Gulf Pines. Vetiver grass, often used for water treatment and erosion prevention overseas, is a versatile plant that can withstand very harsh conditions and can handle very concentrated materials, like leachate, that normally would have to run through a wastewater treatment plant. It is also noninvasive – so it only grows where it is planted – and is U.S. Department of Agriculture-approved.

“With companies like Republic Services and a number of the largest waste companies in the U.S. and the world willing to invest in a new technology, it’s exciting to be a part of the endeavors,” said Granley.

Walker called his work with Granley “a very sustainable green project” and said vetiver grass also has potential as an alternative biomass fuel resource. He said phytoremediation work is exemplary of the waste and recycling industry’s efforts to develop new methods of sustainability.

Through its Community Change Makers program, the National Waste & Recycling Association recognizes companies and individuals in America’s private-sector waste and recycling industry who are making notable impacts through new innovations and advancements in waste management, recycling, environmental protection and other related activities – achievements that go above and beyond the call of duty.