Waste Management

End of an Era: R.I.’s Last Municipal Dump Buried


The Tiverton Landfill, which opened nearly five decades ago, closed late last month. (Town of Tiverton)

TIVERTON, R.I. — After a two-year delay, an era ended last month as town officials closed the last municipally owned landfill in Rhode Island.

The Tiverton Landfill, a leftover from a time when towns owned and operated their own dumps, was originally supposed to be closed and capped starting in November 2020, but the town received an extension from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM). Town officials cited the then-ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the recent opening of Bally’s Tiverton Casino as prime reasons behind the extensions.

The town opened a temporary recycling facility in December on Progress Road to help sort recyclable materials before they are shipped to the materials recycling facility at the Central Landfill in Johnston. Tiverton had already been sending its recycling material to the Central Landfill in Johnston for several years, but its transfer station closed with the town landfill.

The increased costs of waste disposal after the landfill’s closure remain unclear; Tiverton will end up paying for the transportation of the waste and the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation’s municipal tipping fees, but there’s little available data on how much waste the town’s 7,000 households that receive curbside pickup produce.

“Those two costs combined are anticipated to be more than what it cost to run our current one,” said Richard Rogers, director of Tiverton Public Works.

In a 2019 report filed with DEM, the town estimated it buried 5,700 tons of municipal solid waste in its 33-acre landfill that year, and produced another 2,031 tons of recycled material.

Town officials estimate the total cost of waste management will be about $1.5 million and increase annually based on Resource Recovery’s fee schedule. The new recycling facility will cost $750,000, which will be paid for from casino revenue and industrial park infrastructure funds. In comparison, the previous costs to the program were about $800,000.

“This is uncharted territory, but we’re going to pay the same rate as every other municipality, but the total tonnage is not known at this time as we’ve only been able to estimate it,” Rogers said.

Rhode Island used to have dozens of local and municipally owned landfills, but with the creation of the Resource Recovery Corporation and mandatory diversion rates in the 1970s and ’80s, towns started consolidating waste disposal to Johnston’s facilities by state law. Tiverton’s and other pre-existing landfills were grandfathered in, but its permit for DEM has since expired.

But like so many other states and countries in the world, Rhode Island is running out of room to bury its trash. The Central Landfill is expected to reach capacity sometime in the next two decades — the current date based on the facility’s intake is 2040 — and there’s been little action toward a solution from state leadership. The options are slim: expand the current landfill; build a new facility; or pay to ship the waste out of state.

The state can’t recycle its way out of a solution. As ecoRI News reported in 2019, Rhode Island recycling has reached a plateau, and switching to a single-stream model hasn’t seen much of an impact. Municipalities are expected to recycle 35% of all waste sent to the landfill. In 2021, the average recycling rate was only 20.7%.

Meanwhile, Rogers said Tiverton has already started capping the landfill with artificial turf; the work is expected to be completed sometime in 2023. Final construction costs are expected to be between $9 million and $11 million with money raised from proceeds from the town’s sale of “pay as you throw” program trash bags and municipal allocations.

Tiverton is still expected to continue its ground and surface water monitoring of the closed landfill, estimated to cost an additional $68,000 a year.


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