Joel LaFerriere of Highland estimates that he goes to the county's Alpha Ridge Landfill a couple of times a week, mostly to toss in cardboard and other household debris, he said. Like many people, he likes going to the dump and even finds that the experience can be social.
But, until recently, he was discouraged by the long wait to get in on Saturday mornings. "It used to get congested," he said. In fact, the line of cars would sometimes be so long it would spill out onto Marriottsville Road.
Not anymore. On a recent weekday, as LaFerriere threw bags of garbage into a bin, he praised recent expansions and renovations at the landfill, particularly the new lane on the road leading into the station and the increased number of bays, which allow more cars to pull up at one time.
"They've added room, so you have more space to unload," he said, calling the changes "very nice."
The landfill, which dates to 1980, has recently undergone a million-dollar upgrade, said Evelyn Tomlin, chief of the Bureau of Environmental Services for the Department of Public Works.
The main goal of the changes was to eliminate lines and congestion due to the "heavy volume of usage," she said. At the same time, improvements were made to the storm-water ponds, the household hazardous waste drop-off section, the waste oil section and more.
The landfill is the only one in Howard County and is expected to last for the foreseeable future, Tomlin noted. That means it must be treated well. More items than ever before are being recycled, and many items are taken via train to the King George County Landfill in King George, Va., about 95 miles away.
The main change to the landfill was adding a lane of traffic and a guard station to the entrance road leading up to the dump, which is open to residents Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
To use the dump, residents need only show a driver's license proving that they live in the county. For residents, most items can be dumped for free, though there are charges to dispose of certain materials, including shingles ($50 a ton), drywall ($65 a ton) and carpeting, which starting in July will be recycled, dropping the price from $65 a ton to $50.
Tomlin said 2,200 cars or more might pull up to the landfill on a given Saturday. Since the new lane was added, "they haven't had the backup," she said. On weekdays, the number is more like 500, and the second guard station is typically not used.
Also to accommodate those numbers, five bays were added, increasing the number to 13. Each bay can hold three cars at a time, she said.
There were other improvements, too. For hazardous household waste such as paint thinner or gasoline that has water in it, there is now a larger building, with more doors and a handicapped parking spot, Tomlin said. The changes improve "the overall functionality of the building," she said. A new, larger roof over the waste oil section reduces runoff.
Employee Kevin Phillips, operating a compactor for recycled items, said the changes have received lots of compliments. "People think it's really nice," he said.