What Really Happens to Your Trash

By Andrea Davis on September 2, 2022

If you’re like most people, you probably put your trash out at the street each week and promptly forget about it. But the story doesn’t end there. Here’s what happens to your trash after you put it out.

Once your trash is in the truck, it is compacted to make it take up less space. All garbage trucks have a big blade inside that can be used to smash the trash down. After being compacted, your trash likely rides around in the truck for a bit until the truck is full or the driver has picked up all stops on the route. Then it’s time for it to be dumped.

Where your trash is dumped depends on where we’re hauling it from. If you live in our Alma, Jackson or Cedar Springs territory, the trash is taken to a transfer station. A transfer station is a temporary holding facility for garbage (and sometimes recyclables that are kept in a separate area) before it moves on to the next stop. Waste we collect in our Cedar Springs service area all goes to Kent County facilities. In our Alma and Jackson territories, however, most trash is taken to our facilities—Disposal Center of Alma or Disposal Center of Jackson—where it is dumped, stored briefly and then loaded onto a transfer trailer to head to Granger’s landfill in Lansing. All trash collected in our greater Lansing or Fowlerville territories goes directly to Granger’s landfill.

Landfills of today, unlike the dumps of the past, are highly engineered and regulated to make sure they’re safe places to put trash.  (Learn more about landfills at here and here.) At the landfill, trash is dumped in an area called the working face. Then a piece of equipment called a compactor smashes the trash with its huge spiked wheels to compact it even more. At the end of each day, the working face is covered with dirt or with a spray material to secure it overnight. And when that area of the landfill is full, a final cover consisting of many layers will be installed over it to keep the trash inside on a long-term basis.

But even after the cover is installed, the story of your trash is not finished. Almost as soon as it is placed in the landfill, and for many, many years after it arrives, trash decomposes. When it goes through the decomposition process, it produces landfill gas. At Granger Waste Services, this gas that comes from your trash goes on to a useful purpose. It is collected using a system of underground pipes and used to make renewable energy. (Learn more about landfill gas to energy here.) What seemed to be waste while it was sitting at your curb turns out not to be waste at all. Instead, it’s made into a valuable resource.

So, the next time you’re putting out your trash, don’t think of it as something that’s come to the end of its useful life. Think of it as taking the first step on a journey to reach a greater purpose.