I Went On A Dump* Tour, This Is What Happened

*Officially known as the South Wake Landfill

Let me start this article by saying that you’re more likely to get Superbowl tickets on the 50-yard line than you are to book a last minute tour at the South Wake Landfill.

I originally attempted a visit back in February, but I was forced onto the dump tour wait list (yes, that’s a thing), and a spot didn’t become available until March. Believe it or not, landfill tours are extremely popular with the public and bird enthusiasts alike (more on that later).

Interestingly, everyone in the area has been convinced that Holly Springs is the home of the dump, but the South Wake Landfill actually has an Apex address (well played, Town of Apex). The Target parking lot in Holly Springs often smells like a John Cena-level colon cleanse, so any confusion is understandable.

Prior to the tour, I received an onslaught of emails informing me of where to go, what to wear, how to cancel, if needed, etc., so it became clear to me that these (totally free) tours are a well-oiled machine. Even so, I really didn’t know what to expect when I arrived at the field office. It wasn’t long before Environmental Program Coordinator Sara Davarbakhsh noticed me sitting alone in my car cradling a can of Febreze. After a warm greeting, I received a handy-dandy Residential Waste and Recycling Guide and boarded a totally packed shuttle.

From left, Sara Davarbakhsh, Environmental Program Coordinator, and James Hylton, shuttle driver

Before entering the landfill itself we toured the various recycling/waste drop-off facilities, where Wake County residents can unload everything from hazardous materials and scrap metal to clothing and food waste.

Given the popularity of the tour, I was half-expecting there to be a massive WELCOME TO THE LANDFILL gate, à la “Jurassic Park,” instead we passed through a scale that weighs every truck before and after they dump their waste. Our shuttle weighed 14,540 pounds, because this is the land of Bojangles and Cookout and apparently no one on our tour was on the Keto diet.

After being weighed and categorized as garbage, we entered the promised land, and the first thing we all noticed was the insane number of birds flying around. I’m fully aware that seagulls love to hang around trash — I’ve spent a lot of time at Walmart — but this was something else entirely. We saw crows, hawks, buzzards, starlings, turkey vultures, thousands of seagulls and FIVE bald eagles. It was aviary madness, and according to our tour guide, bird watchers from the American Audubon Society have taken tours solely for this reason.

When our bus wasn’t being assaulted by a legion of seagulls, our guide gave us some pretty cool tidbits of information.

The landfill, which is currently 11-years-old, was built with a 25-year capacity. Thanks to Wake County switching to larger recycling bins, it will now be in use until around 2045.

At the moment, the landfill has only developed about 77 acres out of the 179 that are designated for the burial of waste.

The South Wake Landfill and, oh yes, more birds

One of the strangest things about the day was the realization that we were literally driving on top of trash, and by the time we reached the top of the 440 ft hill, we had quite the bird’s eye view (pun intended) of surrounding neighborhoods. There are 12 subdivisions within a quarter mile of the landfill, so burying the trash quickly as a form of odor control is crucial.

The landfill uses an “odor mitigation system” in the form of a little black pipe that runs along the perimeter of the site and pumps an odor neutralizer into the atmosphere. Although their fancy Febreze system is running 24/7, they will often “turn it up” to max capacity when Karens all over Holly Springs start to complain about the stank ruining their backyard barbecues.

Unsurprisingly, mitigating odors is one of the landfill’s biggest priorities, given its proximity to businesses and households.

The tour was comprehensive to say the least, and by the end of it I was inspired to reduce my waste and utilize the on-site convenience centers for items that don’t belong in my recycling container at home. Yes, the landfill might occasionally smell like someone lit a turd on fire, but their innovation and determination to not let anything go to waste (including their own landfill gases) is impressive to say the least.

I also want to give a shout-out to our shuttle driver, James Hylton, who could probably navigate huge mounds of trash in his sleep.

Strangely, upon exiting the landfill we noticed that the collective weight of our shuttle had gone up 40 pounds, so either someone stole a bald eagle (me) or snuck in a trip to Bojangles during our brief time outside of the shuttle (also me). Regardless, I was able to exit the vehicle without incident, and thank Davarbakhsh for an informative and interesting tour on a freezing Wednesday morning.

I would highly recommend a South Wake Landfill tour to every resident of Wake County, including kids, because who wouldn’t want to learn about the importance of waste management while watching a bald eagle majestically sweep over 4 million tons of buried trash? Exactly.

1 Comment

  • Kevyn Creech says:

    Oh my God. Is it possible that I could laugh any harder than I did well reading this epic and deep dumpster-dive into the landfill? Hailing from Apex, I totally enjoy your work. Keep it going for goodness sake. Also, I am an anti-Karen but a lady nonetheless who happens to have a dude’s name (It was the 70s, and apparently my mother was being creative).

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