Where does our garbage go?

To understand why waste prevention and recycling are important, let's look at what it takes to deal with garbage. Trash doesn’t just "go away" when you take your can out for pickup. Here’s what really happens! (Our thanks to Snohomish County for some of this text.)


The first dump in Thurston County was in Bucoda in 1880. Back then, dump sites were sited in areas where it was easy to back up a vehicle and dump the garbage.

Garbage was burned periodically to reduce odors and rats. As the dumps filled, they were simply abandoned and new sites were found; people didn’t realize abandoned sites would harm groundwater, air, soil, wildlife, vegetation, and human beings. In the late 1960s, the federal Clean Air Act eliminated open burning of garbage. Then, new awareness of the environment resulted in specially designed landfills that featured bottom liners and other protections that reduced the impact on the surrounding area.


Hawks Prairie Landfill (now called the Waste and Recovery Center)

roosevelt regional landfillThe Hawks Prairie landfill began in 1945 with a 40-acre excavated gravel pit. Around 1970, burning was replaced by landfilling, and the hole in the ground filled up. So we continued to dig new holes for our garbage as the old holes filled up. The most recent hole, "Cell 1," was opened in 1990. We continued to bury our garbage there until 2000, when the landfilling operation was closed. Cell 1 was the only portion of the facility that was designed with a liner at the bottom and top; the other portions only have liners at the top. More than 50 year’s worth of Thurston County’s garbage is buried on the 140-acre site in Hawk’s Prairie, which is now known as the Thurston County Waste and Recovery Center. This site is now a transfer station for our garbage.

Transfer station and waste export

Since 2000, Thurston County has been sending garbage to the Roosevelt Regional Landfill in Klickitat County, WA. Your garbage now goes through seven steps.

  1. First, a garbage hauler picks up garbage from the curb or dumpster and loads it into a garbage truck. Some people haul their own garbage to a collection site.
  2. The hauler takes the garbage to the Thurston County Waste and Recovery Center in Hawk’s Prairie. Waste is also hauled from drop box sites to the Waste and Recovery Center.
  3. At the transfer station, the garbage is tipped, compacted into a cube weighing 27-30 tons, and pushed into a shipping container.
  4. The shipping container of garbage is then trucked to Centralia to be put on a train.
  5. Every day, the shipping containers are loaded onto a train and carried more than 200 miles to the small town of Roosevelt on the Columbia River.
  6. The shipping containers are removed from the train in Roosevelt and loaded onto trucks.  
  7. The garbage is trucked to the nearby Roosevelt Regional Landfill and unloaded, and the empty containers are returned for re-use. (Watch a YouTube video)

Roosevelt Landfill

The Roosevelt Regional Landfill is lined with compacted clay and high density polyethylene, to prevent "leachate" from contaminating the groundwater. Leachate is the result of rainwater leaching pollutants out of the garbage. (Leachate is sometimes referred to as "liquid garbage.") A plumbing system at the landfill collects the leachate.

Methane gas, produced by decomposing garbage, is also collected through a similar system. One hundred percent of this gas is used to produce electricity at the Klickitat County P.U.D. powerhouse.

The garbage is dumped into "cells," or sections, to manage leachate and to organize the unloading procedure. Every day the garbage is covered with soil to eliminate odors and to discourage seagulls, rodents, and other scavengers.

Recycle, reuse, and prevent waste

As you can see, a lot goes into handling Thurston County’s garbage. Time and labor, fuel, money, materials that produce trucks and trains, and other types of energy are consumed to transport this solid waste. What is really wasteful is when recyclable or reusable items are just dumped in the garbage.

Sending recyclables like aluminum, glass, newspapers, cardboard, mixed paper, scrap metal, yard clippings, pop bottles, and milk jugs all the way to Klickitat County wastes landfill space and natural resources. These resources could be recycled again and again into new products instead of being buried in the landfill.

Reusable things are also disposed of needlessly. People throw out bicycles, clothes, books, furniture, and many household items that could be donated to thrift stores, sold at garage sales, or given to others who could use them.

Reusing keeps perfectly good items out of the landfill and helps others. It also extends the life of the things, making better use of the natural resources that went into making them.

Avoiding wasteful packaging or poor-quality items that break is also important. Use sturdy durables instead of disposables. Filling up our landfills with "convenience" items or packaging is truly a waste.

These are crucial reasons for choosing to prevent waste, reuse, and recycle. Discover local opportunities for reuse and recycling.

Contact us

Call the Solid Waste Hotline at (360) 867-2491 or e-mail ThurstonSolidWaste@co.thurston.wa.us

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