EPA reaches legal agreements to close two Puerto Rico landfills

Cayey and Arroyo to close landfills, expand recycling and launch composting programs.

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October 3, 2016
Solid Waste Report Staff
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reached agreements with the municipalities of Cayey and Arroyo to permanently close their municipal solid waste landfills, improve landfill operations, make major improvements to recycling, and introduce composting programs.

“It is imperative that Puerto Rico expand source reduction, recycling, and composting on the island,” says EPA Regional Administrator Judith A. Enck. "The most effective way to handle solid waste is to produce less of it, while making sure that landfills are properly closed when they reach capacity. That is the strategy that the EPA has used in addressing the many landfills in Puerto Rico that are near or beyond capacity.”

Cayey will permanently stop receiving waste at its landfill by January 1, 2018, and Arroyo will permanently stop receiving waste at its landfill by June 30, 2019. Both landfills would be permanently closed according to an approved closure schedule.

Under the two legal agreements with the EPA, Arroyo will create a recycling program, and Cayey will expand and improve its existing recycling program. Both municipalities will also create new composting programs. These recycling and composting programs, which will be designed with EPA and community input, will be aimed at minimizing the disposal of recyclable materials, and food and yard waste. Both municipalities will also develop an educational and outreach program to inform the public of these initiatives, and will include outreach to schools, municipal facilities, small businesses, and households.

The municipalities have also agreed to make improvements to operations, including measures to better manage stormwater, reduce dust, monitor ground water, and install landfill gas control systems. Both Cayey and Arroyo are required to submit Zika virus mosquito control plans to the EPA, and to implement them at their landfills. In addition, both municipalities will continue to cover exposed areas of the landfill on a daily basis to help control odors and blowing debris. Cayey and Arroyo are required to improve landfill security and will inspect incoming loads of waste to ensure that hazardous wastes, certain liquid wastes, scrap tires, recyclable materials, refrigerators and other appliances are not being sent to the landfill.

During inspections of the Cayey and Arroyo landfills, the EPA discovered that both lacked adequate security, adequate stormwater controls, and effective ground water and methane monitoring systems, and had steep and potentially unstable slopes. Both landfills were expanded without installing required liners and leachate collection systems. Arroyo also failed to properly maintain a partial liner and leachate collection system on its landfill. Leachate is a liquid that percolates through a landfill or has been generated by decomposing waste.

The EPA held public meetings in Cayey and Arroyo to discuss these agreements and to seek comment from the public. The proposed Administrative Orders on Consent that detail these agreements were subject to public comment periods. During these public comment periods, no written comments were received.

Since 2007, the EPA has reached agreements with 12 municipalities and other owners and operators of landfills in Puerto Rico to improve landfill operations and to put them on schedules for closure. 11 of these agreements have included the implementation of municipal recycling programs. The EPA is continuing to assess landfills throughout Puerto Rico and to develop legal agreements where appropriate.

For more information on the EPA’s work with Puerto Rico landfills, visit: www.epa.gov/aboutepa/epa-puerto-rico