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The path of trash.

The trip for trash starts in your trash can at home, goes through local waste haulers, sometimes through the county, and always to a landfill.

Find out more of the details below.

Trash. Everyone knows where it starts, but where does it end up and how does it get there? The process isn't that complicated, but let's take a look at what happens to trash in the County of Santa Barbara. Check out our 2011 video and read below.

Step one: Collection

The waste haulers in the county drive the large trucks with compactors on the back of them. In some local cities, the city is the waste hauler, but in the unincorporated areas, trash is collected by companies that the County permits to pick it up.

The hauler picks up the trash and trucks it to either a transfer station or a landfill.

What is a Transfer Station?

A transfer station is a location that accepts trash, and frequently recyclables and other materials, before transferring them off to their final destination. This is done in part so that the heavy trucks that do the collection do not have to drive all the way to a waste's final destination. For instance, the South Coast Recycling & Transfer Station is much closer to Santa Barbara and Goleta than the closest landfill. Nothing stays at the transfer station permanently; everything is transferred out using big rig trucks.

The County operates four transfer stations, which you can read more about on the County's Public Works website. Trash from all these locations gets transferred to a landfill.

The Landfill: The Final Resting Place

The principal behind modern sanitary landfills is to bury trash in the most contained way possible. Trash is delivered by trucks to what is called the "open cell". This is the only part of the landfill that has trash visible at the surface. After being delivered, the trash is driven over by heavy machines called compactors. A lot of materials contain air, and the compactors squeeze out as much air as possible. After the cell is full, it is covered permanently with a layer of material, usually dirt or something similar. At that point there is a new cell opened until it is filled.

Modern landfills are lined with material to keep contaminants inside the landfill from leaking out. They also have landfill gas collectors to capture most of the methane that the materials inside of the landfill make. At Tajiguas, the landfill run by the County, landfill gas powers 2,500 to 3,000 homes each day.

Where are the local landfills?

There are several landfills in the area. The City of Santa Maria has a landfill four miles east of the City that accepts waste generated in the Santa Maria valley. The City of Lompoc and Vandenburg Air Force Base both have landfills that accept waste in their areas. The Tajiguas landfill, which is operated by the County, serves the unincorporated areas of the South Coast and Santa Ynez Valley, as well as the cities of Santa Barbara, Goleta, Solvang, and Buellton.

How much trash do we make?

We recycle over 70% of the waste we generate in the unincorporated area, meaning only 30% gets buried in landfills like Tajiguas. Unfortunately, this is still a lot of trash. In fact, the amount of trash disposed of today is roughly the same as it was ten years ago, despite the fact that recycling has increased. This means that even though our community is recycling more, each person on average throws away more trash and recycling than they did before.

How do we stop trash?

Using this site to reduce, reuse, and recycle everything you can is a great place to start. Buying recycled-content products and choosing products that have less packaging are also great ways to cut the amount of trash you generate.

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