Orange County officials formally opened the Bee Canyon landfill Monday, elevating the subject of trash to unprecedented heights.
"Thank you Father," said the Rev. Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Valley Community Church, opening a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by about 250 people. "You created this world and you expect us to take care of it."
The landfill--the first to open in Orange County since 1981 and the first in the state since 1986--is at the end of Sand Canyon Avenue, about three miles east of Irvine Boulevard. It opened for business March 5, two days after the Coyote Canyon landfill in the San Joaquin Hills closed down.
Coyote Canyon had been in operation for 27 years. Bee Canyon, sprawled across 725 acres and surrounded by lush green hillsides and orange groves, should be open for business for 30 years--longer if county residents learn to recycle more trash and throw away less, officials said.
To that end, much of Monday's ceremony was devoted to publicizing a new county recycling campaign. County Supervisor Gaddi H. Vasquez, whose district includes three of the county's four operating landfills, pointed out that Orange County residents produce about 11.5 pounds of trash per person each day, nearly twice the national average of 6.4 pounds, and must learn to separate the recyclables from the disposables.
"We can no longer be the throw-away society we have become," Vasquez said. "The solution lies in a broader approach. This is the beginning of a new way we handle and dispose our solid waste in Orange County."
Last week, the Board of Supervisors approved the establishment of a Waste Management Agency, underscoring the importance that waste issues will have in the coming years. The current director of the agency, Frank Bowerman, said Monday that the county's challenge "is to fill (Bee Canyon) as slowly as we can."
John Gallagher, chairman of the state Integrated Waste Management Board, said Bee Canyon will be the landfill that others will strive to imitate.
"When you view it from my vantage point, let me tell you, it is a beautiful, beautiful landfill," Gallagher said.
What distinguishes the $50-million Bee Canyon landfill, experts said, are the extraordinary measures taken to protect the surrounding environment. The bottom of the canyon, nearly a mile long, is lined with several layers of clay, plastic and a synthetic filter fabric to prevent pollutants from seeping into the ground. In addition, an intricate drainage system has been installed to capture any contaminated water or chemicals that might trickle through the liner.
Water collected from beneath the liner will be sprayed back on the landfill to control dust, while the more potentially toxic liquids trapped by the liner will be tested and disposed of off-site.
When Bee Canyon's giant crater is filled, county officials plan to cover it and convert it into parkland.
But waste-management experts would prefer to see that happen in 50 or 60 years, rather than 30 years.
"It's important to put in only that that can't be reused," said Gallagher, adding that California will need more landfills in the coming years. "Conserve yours. Use it wisely."