Sullivan County’s Trash Future: Liam Mayo Investigates Possible Shift

If you currently reside in Sullivan County, your garbage is currently transported to the Seneca Meadows Landfill in Seneca County, New York, as Sullivan County has not had its own landfill for approximately two decades. However, this situation could be undergoing a transformation, as Liam Mayo reports.


If you live in Sullivan County, right now your trash goes upstate. It goes to the Seneca Meadows Landfill in Seneca County, New York; Sullivan County hasn’t had a landfill of its own in around 20 years. 

This set-up may be changing 



“Currently, we put 70 percent of our trash into the ground. That is coming to an end in three to five years. I don’t think it’s a good idea to do it anyway, but if we can find a solution before, I would appreciate it.”


That was Rob Doherty, chair of the Sullivan County Legislature, talking about waste management at a legislature meeting last year. 

Sullivan County h

as other options for waste management beyond landfills. It’s working currently on composting, and has explored a heat-treatment technology similar in principle to incineration. And while landfills may still be necessary, their role may be much reduced compared to today. 

So, what’s happening with Seneca Meadows?

Every landfill has a certain amount of permitted capacity, the amount of trash it can take in before it has to shut down. Seneca Meadows is nearing its capacity and is scheduled to run out of room in 2025. 

Seneca Meadows is applying for an expansion permit, but that’s not a sure thing. And even if it remains open, the broader trends show the Northeast is running out of places to put its trash. One-quarter of New York State’s active landfills will reach capacity in the next two years, according to a report from the Northeast Waste Management Officials Association. 

Sullivan County could shift to hauling its garbage out of state. But there are problems with that, too; here’s Doherty, again. 


“It’s going to cost triple the amount to haul our garbage somewhere else to put it in the ground, which is incorrect to do. It creates methane gas, which is 82 times worse than carbon.”


The farther away Sullivan County has to haul its trash, the more expensive it gets for the county. And as Doherty said, landfills create methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to waste management being the fourth highest source of emissions in New York State. 

So, if landfills have issues as a waste management option, what other options are there? 

For New York State, it goes back to the beginning. 


“Getting toxins out of products at the beginning makes it a lot easier to do resource recovery and it allows our supply chain to be more sustainable. So New York State’s really been a leader in this front. We’ve banned the intentional adding a PFAS chemicals in apparel in food packaging, in carpets, and so really working to make sure that the less toxins you have in the material the better.”


That’s Dereth Glance, DEC Deputy Commissioner for Environmental Remediation and Material Management.

What Glance is talking about goes back farther than separating your trash from your recyclables, your composting from everything else. It starts all the way back before a product gets made. 

But, important as it is, extended producer responsibility is more of a state issue; Sullivan County doesn’t have the same type of authority over producers that the state does. By the time things get to Sullivan County, it’s more about that next stage in the process: separating out the different materials in the waste stream so they can be used and reused appropriately. 

Recycling may be the most well-known part of this waste-recovery stage. You take your glass bottles and your cardboard boxes, and you make sure they go to recycling, rather than trash. But it’s also hit something of a ceiling; recycling rates have stagnated in New York over the past ten years, and there’s not one obvious way to make that better. 

Another part of this process shows more room for progress: composting. A huge chunk of the greenhouse gasses produced by landfills come from organic materials – food scraps, lawn waste, stuff like that – and the state is working now to make sure those get taken out of the waste stream and used for productive means. 


“Organic waste has a significant benefit, too, as a soil amendment ,if your composting, if you’re able to reuse it, and so if we can divert more and more organic material from landfills into productive use of growing foods and carbon sequestration activities—as plants are because they’re feeding the plants—that is the priority.”


Sullivan County is working on its own composting program. It’s been held up for a while by the lack of a DEC permit: according to the county’s recycling coordinator, Kassie Thelman, the county now has that permit and can begin collecting compost. The program will ship compost materials from Sullivan to Ulster County for processing, at least to start. 

Sullivan County has recently announced more details about the waste management program. Residents can contact Thelman to sign up, at, or at 845-807-0291. Residents can then take their food scraps to almost any Sullivan County Transfer Station, where they’ll go to the Ulster County Resource Recovery Agency to be turned into usable compost and then sold

Recycling and composting can take a lot of materials out of the waste stream, but there will still be some materials left over. Traditionally this remainder goes to landfills, but there’s another option as well: incinerators. 

Specialized facilities, also called “waste-to-energy facilities,” can take trash, burn it in a controlled environment, and use that burning to run steam turbines or some other way of generating power – so, waste, to, energy. 

Burning trash, even in a controlled environment, has its risks. A 2021 report from the US Public Resource Information Group lists potential health risks from incinerators, including ash and air emissions with toxic chemicals and heavy metals. 

But the emissions from waste-to-energy facilities are heavily monitored, and according to the DEC, incinerators can have their benefits. 


“There’s a permitting strategy, an ability to cite them, as long as you meet your, all of the requirements for you know, air emissions, you know managing managing the materials and being able to find a place for the ash at the end of the day, how that’s managed. But you know, there’s lots of benefits to a well engineered, well operated, highly regulated waste-to-energy facility.”


There are two of these waste-to-energy incinerators currently active in the Hudson Valley. A facility in Dutchess County forms the cornerstone of that county’s wast management strategy. Sullivan County talked last year with Hughes Energy, a company offering a similar if more experimental technology, but those plans haven’t progressed at all this year. 


So, where does all this leave Sullivan County? For now, not much is likely to change. According to Ed McAndrews, the county’s public works commissioner, the county still plans to landfill its trash for the immediate future. It’s hoping that Seneca Meadows gets an expansion; if not, the county will have to find another landfill; if Seneca Meadows does fill up in the next two years, that’s not enough time to put together another alternative.

Getting away from landfills is a goal for zero-waste advocates across the state, but it will take time, and it will take a lot of different factors working together. New York State is trying to reduce the amount of waste in landfills by 85 percent by 2050; it’s an ambitious goal, but there’s a ways to go for the state to get there. 

Here’s Rebekah Creshkoff, a local environmental activist, talking with the Sullivan County Legislature about what it will take to get the state towards the idea of zero waste. 


“It’s about culture change, shifting from a linear economy to a circular one. Yes, that is bigger than Sullivan County, but other communities are moving in this direction too, including but not limited to Westchester and Ulster. Some are further along than others, but all zero waste proponents recognize that, while we can divert a significant amount of waste through reduction, deconstruction instead of demolition, composting and materials recovery, we are unlikely ever to get our waste stream down to zero.”


For Radio Catskill, I’m Liam Mayo. 

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One thought on “Sullivan County’s Trash Future: Liam Mayo Investigates Possible Shift

  • Tom

    These efforts are all commendable, but the timetables are a little too ambitious to achieve and therefore in the short run drive up costs in our already inflationary economy. Sullivan County is one of the poorer counties in the region and that needs to be taken into consideration by its leaders when being lobbied by overzealous activists who disregard the short-term expense to achieve their goals no matter how it effects the pockets of working-class people. People in the county and region have already been subject to large double digit increases for energy by the premature closing of Indian Point, the current administration restricting drilling of oil internally and instead asking our enemies to supply us oil that they do at inflated prices which helps one major supplier pay for the war it is conducting with the Ukraine. Im all in when it comes to new methods of waste management, EVs, solar and windmills but it will take time and we need to work it out where the supply chain for these ideas are American, economical, and therefore do not break the publics wallets in the short term.