Superior landfill nearing capacity as new options are explored

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Many of our landfills have been around for decades, including the one located just outside of Superior. 

The Wisconsin Point Landfill started closing in the mid-seventies and was replaced by the Superior Landfill, also known as the Moccasin Mike Landfill.  Although located in Wisconsin, waste from much of Northeast Minnesota ends up at this location.

“It serves all of the City of Superior portions of Douglas county, kind of the northern part of Douglas county, and then the entire Western Lake Superior Sanitary District, which is all the Greater Duluth area, Carlton County, and then a lot of the waste on the North Shore of Lake Superior too, ends up coming down the shore,” explained City of Superior Environmental Regulatory Manager Darienne McNamara. “There’s no other landfills up there to take that way.”

An estimated 18 semi trucks of waste each weekday are hauled from WLSSD to the landfill. Built in five phases, the landfill is unable to expand any further.

“When they first started it, it was much, much smaller when they first built it. This has been constructed in five different phases,” said McNamare. “Phase one was the only thing open when this landfill first started. We’re on phase five now, so 40 some years later and we expect this to go through 2026. Then we will reach capacity.”

Once that happens, the landfill will be closed for good. 

“We will cover all the garbage with soil and then work on starting to actually formally cap the landfill, which is a pretty complicated process, but basically just wrapping it all up in dirt and plastic and more dirt on top and covering it with grass,” McNamara explained. “And then we start our long-term care, which is a state requirement that for a minimum of 40 years that we’re out here monitoring the site just to make sure that nothing is leaking, that everything’s working the way it’s supposed to be.”

It is currently unknown where waste in the area will go once the Superior landfill closes, but there are two proposed options. 

“The region is proposing, both Itasca County and Saint Louis County, really good projects for land disposal that also have a recyclable reduction component to them,” said WLSSD Executive Director Marianne Bohren. “Both projects have submitted bonding requests to the state. And as a regional plan, we are seeing both projects are very, very important. We will have somewhere to haul the garbage once Moccasin Mike landfill closes, but it is likely a distance of more than 100 miles, which is costly, environmentally disadvantageous from a greenhouse gas standpoint, and not ultimately responsible.” 

Itasca County has proposed a $20 million project to construct a landfill in the city of Keewatin

St. Louis County has also proposed a $20 million project for a new landfill, with a site in Canyon being the location of interest.

On behalf of WLSSD, Bohren wrote a letter in March in support of St. Louis County‘s plans that include expanding the St. Louis County Regional Landfill in Virginia to treat for PFAS.

Related: St. Louis County plan to treat landfill leachate for PFAS

WLSSD also wrote a letter in April in support of Itasca County‘s plan, saying that it has “importance in providing a long-term and environmentally sound solution incorporating solid waste and recyclable materials processing with land disposal.”

The Minnesota House is expected to decide on both bills before the current legislative session ends on May 22nd, but even if approved, these projects will take time. 

“Our timeline for finding the next land disposal facility is really short with Moccasin Mike landfill closing in 2026. These projects have to be permitted by the MPCA. They need money to do the design work necessary,” said Bohren. “We would just really encourage the state to provide support because we’re running out of time and we need to do what’s responsible for the region.”

While the state works on finding locations for our waste, there are ways we can send less waste to landfills. 

WLSSD has a detailed disposal website on their website with thorough information on how to dispose of a variety of items.

“We still see a lot of beverage containers. so you can recycle your aluminum cans, you can recycle your glass. One of the largest components in the trash are organic scraps from your table. You cleaned out your refrigerator. We do have an organics collection program here. We have a great composting operation,” Bohren said. “If people are interested in saving a little money and saving space in the landfill, they could contact the city. and we’ll certainly give you the information about our food recycling programs.”

The Material Recovery Center collects larger  items that can be recycled or reused, and the Household Hazardous Waste location accepts paints, cleaners, and other items that can be reused. 

“There’s a lot of opportunities to reduce what people put in their trash, just knowing that when it leaves your house, it has to go somewhere and you know, those locations are getting less and less,” said Bohren. “Looking at whether you really have to throw something away or whether it can be reused is helpful, regardless of whether we have new land disposal facilities or not.”