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Too much trash: North Georgia landfill getting too full, too fast

Its 50-year shelf life may be down to two more years.

MT AIRY, Ga. — How much garbage is too much? A northeast Georgia county is reckoning with that question as its landfill runs out of room much faster than projected.  

A decade ago, engineers estimated that the Habersham County landfill would fill the waste disposal needs of the populace until 2072 – 50 more years. But then, the county’s garbage hauls got bigger and bigger.

"Ten years ago, we were taking approximately 50 tons a day. Now some days we’re taking 150 tons a day," Habersham County Commission Chairman Bruce Palmer said.

Instead of 50 more years, Palmer said the landfill could max out in two years.

Habersham County contracts for curbside garbage pickup. The county has grown faster than many rural counties in Georgia – but not as fast as Georgia as a whole, according to census data from 2010 to 2020.  

When the county built this landfill, residents expected it to last a lifetime.

"The citizens here, all of them nearly had a heart attack when this landfill was put here," Habersham County's Solid Waste Director Laurie Church said. "I don’t see them ever wanting another one."

Church said the county has to upgrade its recycling program, though she said curbside recycling is too costly for a county this rural.   

She anticipates residents will want to find a way to ship waste elsewhere when this landfill reaches capacity.  

"I mean, they may change their minds when they see what it costs to ship it out of county," she said.

This puts this county in a spot that will challenge local governments across Georgia for decades: how to manage trash and the expectations of those creating it.

"They want the service but sometimes it’s hard to convince them what the service costs," Palmer said.

Even if Habersham county finds new landfill space, Palmer said it would take up to a decade to buy, permit and prepare the site.  

The current landfill may fill up before then. 

Credit: WXIA
Buzzards in the Habersham County landfill

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