The filling of wetlands in the Meadowlands started with the earliest settlers, who attempted to farm portions of the area through a series of dikes, and also built roads as a means to traverse the marshes. In the mid-1900s, the Meadowlands were viewed as a breeding ground for mosquitoes, unusable land that should either be drained or filled. With the increasing population in the surrounding area, the Meadowlands provided a convenient location for indiscriminant dumping and large-scale garbage disposal operations that had the added “benefit” of filling what were commonly viewed as “swamps.” By today's standards, these operations would be considered open dumps lacking any environmental controls.
When the agency was created by an act of the Legislature in 1969, the area had become home to almost daily, unregulated dumping of solid waste. Most of the open dumps that were operated prior to 1969 resulted in extensive filling of the region’s wetlands with no regard to environmental damage.
A 1970 study prepared for the agency by Zurn Environmental Engineers identified 51 individual locations of solid waste dumping operations within the Meadowlands District. These sites were placed into the categories of past and present operations, not counting locations where “midnight dumpers” routinely disposed solid waste.
Thirty-nine sites covering 1,800 acres in the District were identified in the past category. These areas were listed as containing burned refuse, which may also have included incinerator waste. The present category included 12 sites covering 940 acres. These areas were identified as accepting a variety of materials including demolition, commercial, industrial and residential waste.
Dumping practices at that time were characterized as “dump and push” operations. Trucks that arrived at the “dump” (landfill) would unload their contents and a machine would push loads on top or over the edge of the landfill. This did not allow for any compaction of the garbage, and debris from these sites would simply erode in an uncontrolled manner. Waste was also dumped into the Hackensack River with no environmental controls in place. Covering of the garbage was random at best, and fires at these sites were common-place.
At the time the agency was created, the regulation of landfills was in its infancy nationwide. A 1969 study by the State Department of Health (predecessor to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection) found that the District received 5,000 tons of waste per day, six days a week, 300 days a year, from 118 New Jersey municipalities and New York City.
In addition to closing many of these open dumps, the agency prevented the expansion of solid waste operations into another 1,400 acres of undisturbed wetlands, and instituted standards for compacting and covering solid waste years before such guidelines were promulgated on a statewide level. One of the agency's solid waste planning goals has been to remediate many of these larger sites in the District by bringing them up to modern-day standards.
Remediation has included efforts to control the migration of leachate from the site by constructing perimeter cutoff walls and leachate collection systems.
More than 11,000 tons per day of household solid waste and construction and demolition debris from the northern part of the state were brought to District landfills during the late 1970s and early 1980s, prior to the agency phasing out many of these operations. Recognizing that many of the landfills were nearing their permitted capacity, most of the counties agreed to a phased redirection of their waste and began exporting outside the state. In 1997, the agency stopped accepting household waste at its remaining active landfills.
One of the early efforts by the agency to manage solid waste more effectively was the construction of a baling facility, commonly known as “the baler,” in the North Arlington. The agency operated the baler from April 1980 until September 1997. Twin balers compacted waste into one-ton bales about the size of a refrigerator. The bales were brought to a landfill on a flatbed trailer, where they were off-loaded and stacked like bricks. Baling uses less landfill space, since more garbage is squeezed into the available area in the landfill. With bales, less soil is also needed for cover than with a traditional landfill. The agency leased the facility from 1998 to 2008 solely as a waste transfer station.
The facility was reopened in 2010 and is currently leased by the agency to a private operator as a multi-modal transfer facility that provides additional solid waste disposal capacity for the region. Waste from this facility is loaded into multi-modal containers that are brought by trailer to a rail facility and off-loaded onto railcars. This waste is then transported to out-of-state landfill facilities.
From 1996 to 2006, the agency leased composting sites atop two closed landfills in the District. Vegetative waste from northern New Jersey towns, including leaves, grass and brush, were composted to produce a topsoil product, while brush and tree parts were ground into mulch. This vegetative waste would otherwise take up landfill space. Beginning in 2006, the agency began leasing a single vegetative waste transfer facility. The waste deposited at the landfill today is brought to a separate location for composting.
Today the NJSEA operates a single landfill, the Keegan Landfill in Kearny. The landfill accepts Type 13, 13C, 23 and 27 waste. Keegan ceased operations in the early 1970s, when it operated with little or no environmental controls. As a result, there were frequent underground fires, and leachate from the site poured into the adjacent Kearny fresh-water marsh ecosystem. After remediating the site, the agency reopened Keegan in 2009 and currently takes in waste from hundreds of public and private entities in northern New Jersey.
The open dumps in the Meadowlands District in the early 1970s predated state environmental regulations and the establishment of the NJMC, and all involved the filling of wetlands. In general, these operations entailed the excavation of the marsh soils and the backfilling of the wetlands with solid waste, with no thought toward environmental impact. Many of these open dumps were eventually “orphaned,” or abandoned, by their operators, who walked away from the sites without making environmental improvements or setting aside funds for closure.
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, created on the first Earth Day in 1970, developed and implemented solid waste regulations. The former open dumps in the Meadowlands became heavily regulated and required site preparation, operational controls, capping, leachate collection and landfill gas recovery. In addition, the landfill operator was required to maintain all aspects of the landfill closure improvements for a minimum of 30 years following closure of a site.
There are two main by-products from the decomposition of solid waste in a landfill. When rainwater filters through the decomposing garbage at landfill sites, it produces leachate, a tea-colored liquid that can seep into the surrounding wetlands and eventually into local streams and rivers. Leachate contains a mix of contaminants, depending on the waste that is encountered when water flows downward. Another by-product of solid waste decomposition is landfill gas, a roughly 50/50 mix of methane and carbon dioxide. If left uncontrolled, these gases can build up and cause fires or explosions. Prior to the controls now in place, drivers on the northern portion of the New Jersey Turnpike were often greeted by smoke and odors from underground landfill fires.
Over the years, the NJSEA has remediated these former open dumps through the construction of perimeter cutoff walls that extend to a naturally occurring clay layer beneath the landfills. This clay layer meets or exceeds liner standards established by the state for vertical permeability, or the ability of water to pass through the soil. The cutoff wall design that was employed utilizes a vertical trench that extends into the underlying clay layer. Once stabilized, the trench is replaced by a cutoff wall that effectively isolates the landfills hydraulically from the surrounding wetlands, creating a “bathtub” for the leachate.
Once this perimeter vertical barrier is in place, a leachate collection system is constructed to gather the leachate within the landfill and maintain an established level. The Commission has designed these systems so that the interior leachate level remains below the level of the wetlands surrounding the landfills. In the event that there is any migration of liquids through the cutoff wall, the liquid would tend to travel into the landfill, and not out to the wetlands. This state-of-the-art “inflow landfill” design has been used successfully throughout the country. The collected leachate is then pumped to a regional sewage treatment facility.
Landfill gas is collected from two sites in the District through a network of vertical wells that extend into the waste, and a web of collection pipes. These ultimately go to two central collection points.
The NJSEA has also installed impermeable caps on top of portions of the landfills in order to decrease leachate production. The Authority has utilized several different liner designs as a cap. Once in place, these liners are covered with topsoil, seeded and vegetated. In addition, the NJSEA has used stabilized dredge material from New York harbor to provide a cap for portions of several landfills. The dredge material is mixed with cement and forms a suitable impermeable cap for the landfill.
Beginning in 1998, leachate pump stations that serve several closed and active landfills. The stations have pumped billions of gallons of leachate to the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission's regional sewage treatment facility in Newark.
Leachate from these sites will continue to be pumped for the 30-year post-closure period as required by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.
The collection and processing of leachate from these landfills is a major objective to protect the delicate balance of nature.
Leachate is a liquid product of the decomposition of landfills. If not properly collected in the Meadowlands, this contaminated liquid would eventually seep into surrounding wetlands, streams and rivers.
In order to accommodate the amount of leachate collected from its landfills, the agency entered into a cooperative agreement with the Kearny Municipal Utilities Authority (KMUA) in 2006 to build two pumping stations. The NJSEA provided the funds to build the pumping stations and designed the stations to also accommodate sewage from proposed developments in the area. This has created an economic improvement to the Kearny Meadowlands area through increased sewage capacity, which has enabled major development.
Landfill gas is produced by the decomposition of garbage buried in landfills. The gas consists of an approximate mix of 50 percent methane, the major component of natural gas, with the balance coming from carbon dioxide and traces of other unstable components.
Landfill gas can pose a threat to surrounding properties and the environment if not controlled. Fires - and even explosions- can occur when these compounds build up underground and enter a confined space. The gas, when untapped and unmanaged, can also release emissions into the atmosphere. As part of the NJSEA's efforts to control these emissions, landfill gas recovery has been successfully implemented in the Meadowlands District on more than 550 acres of landfills. Under the methane recovery process, landfill gas is extracted under a vacuum from wells located at the various landfills and piped to processing plants.
Customers must be registered with the NJDEP (609-292-6305) before an account can be opened. To open a new account please, contact our Escrow Operations Department at 201- 460-8161. Hauler accounts are set up as Pre-Pay accounts with a “cutoff amount” minimum, which is based on truck size and county origin of waste. As each load is disposed of at the Keegan Landfill, the monies for that load will be deducted from your pre-paid Account. Your driver will be notified by the scalehouse when you are reaching your “cutoff” so you can replenish your account. For more information about the Keegan Landfill please see information below.
Solid Waste Vehicle Registration
Registration states that "no person shall engage in or continue to engage in the transportation of solid waste in this State without first obtaining an approved registration statement from the NJDEP." Read more about vehicle registration
Many materials are mandated recyclables by both the State and individual counties. Here are the mandates on recyclables for each county, which cannot be accepted at the Keegan Landfill.