New waste management rules could change the shape of Wisconsin's landfills. They allow a landfill at its peak to reach 25 stories high.
Wisconsin buries more than ten million tons of trash every year. And, the more trash people pile up, the more space landfills take up.
"In 1990, we were approving landfill sizes on the order of 2 million to 5 million cubic yards," DNR director of waste management Suzanne Bangert says.
These days proposals call for landfills triple that size, but the DNR says it has a remedy.
"This particular rule package allows for wiser, more efficient use of land already impacted by landfills," Bangert says.
New rules approved by the natural resources board allow for longer leachate lines. Leachate lines drain contaminated water from the landfill.
Banger says, "currently, the standard is 1,200 feet. This will allow an increase of up to 2,000 feet, where it's appropriate."
That allows landfills to grow upward -- up to 250 feet, or 25 stories.
Bangert says, "if there are wetlands nearby, if there's surface water, if there are homes or private wells, then they may not be able to use that longer line."
A Dane County landfill is as high as its expected to get at 110 feet. Other landfills like it could get more than double that high.
"We're not quibbling over the pipes or the barriers," Caryl Terrell of the Sierra Club says.
The Sierra Club wants the law to require operators to bear the cost, long term, if these landfills fail.
The DNR says an operator is required to have money for maintenance for 40 years after a landfill closes, but the responsibility lasts forever.
"Now is the time to say if you're gonna build a 25-story landfill, you have to provide insurance or some kind of upfront fund ... to maintain that facility safely perpetually," Terrell says.
The changes require legislative approval.
The DNR says approval for any expansion of a landfill takes years.