Through gases from an Indianapolis landfill, more than 400,000 poinsettias, bedding plants and hanging baskets are grown annually.
Those plants are in the Crossroads Greenhouse at the South Side Landfill at the corner of Kentucky Avenue and Raymond Street on the city’s southwest side.
Some waste from Best Way Disposal’s Jackson County Transfer and Recycling Station at 975 S. Commerce Drive in Seymour winds up in that landfill.
Michelle Stephens and Mark Fixmer of Best Way both said it’s neat to walk into the greenhouse this time of year and see rows and rows of poinsettias.
“It’s crazy. You walk in, and you’re just like, ‘Holy cow,’” Stephens said.
“It’s seven acres of red. It’s like a red carpet,” Fixmer said.
Once solid waste is deposited into the landfill, it is covered with soil, and a decomposition process begins. The waste produces methane gas and carbon dioxide.
In the early 1980s, landfill gas recovery wells were installed. Tests were conducted, and it was found that landfill gas could be collected safely and in sufficient, reliable quantities to be used as an energy source.
Following research and investment, more than 200 landfill gas recovery wells were installed, and a pipeline system was constructed to collect and transport the gas.
Some of the gas collected is used to heat the vehicle maintenance shop and greenhouse and power the liquids pumping station.
The greenhouse, which opened in 1989, is divided into several climate-controlled zones. The temperature, humidity and automated ventilation system are computer-controlled.
Landfill gas is used within the greenhouse to meet heating and other climate-controlled requirements and also generates electricity to supplement electrical needs.
Flowers are grown in the greenhouse year-round. Additionally, nearly 80 million starter plugs are shipped to other commercial greenhouses throughout North America.
Stephens said people must take a landfill tour to access the greenhouse and purchase flowers. Cost of the poinsettias depends on the size of the flower.
Fixmer said the poinsettias are shipped around the world. Stephens said they also are given to Best Way employees, and sales representatives give them to customers including those in the Jackson County area.
When Stephens delivers the poinsettias, she hands the customer a sheet of paper explaining how the poinsettia was grown at the landfill.
“The reaction I get is so amazing, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe that. I never knew you could do that. That’s awesome. I’m so glad that you are recycling,’” Stephens said. “‘You’re taking recycling to a new level’ is what I hear all the time, too.”
She said that gives her a good feeling.
“To me, the best part is going and visiting my customers and being able to tell that story around Christmastime,” Stephens said. “Every single time I say it, I always get that great feeling that I work for a place that actually does that.”
Recycling is important to Best Way and the landfill, Fixmer said.
“It’s not a hole dug in the ground and there you go,” he said. “Everything is reused as much as possible, especially the gas. That’s the big thing right there.”
The landfill also supplies gas to nearby industrial and manufacturing facilities for use as an alternative fuel and energy source.
“Right now, they are getting ready to run a mile-long pipeline in downtown Indy to feed another electrical substation to generate electricity,” he said. “It’s ongoing. A lot of money is invested and a lot of time.”
South Side Landfill has been in existence since 1971. It is completely surrounded by an impermeable barrier that extends from the ground surface to an average depth of more than 91 feet.
Also on the site is Buffer Park Golf Course, an affiliate of the landfill. Fixmer said the nine-hole course, which opened in 1999, was put in as a buffer to the nearby neighborhoods.
Built in 1989, Crossroads Greenhouse has always used gas from the South Side Landfill in Indianapolis as its primary source of heat.
The greenhouse is a wholesale operation, providing plants to retailers and commercial landscapers across central Indiana.
The total growing area is nearly six-and-a-half acres divided into three independent climate zones.
The primary crops are Easter lilies and geraniums in late winter/spring; custom order commercial landscaping packages in spring/summer; and poinsettias in summer/fall/early winter.
Landfill gas is generated by the natural decomposition of the waste deposited in a landfill.
Landfill gas consists of 45 to 55 percent methane, 35 to 50 percent carbon dioxide, 5 to 10 percent nitrogen, less than 1 percent oxygen, and trace compounds at parts per million levels.
If not properly managed, landfill gas can be a significant source of air pollution or it could migrate.
South Side Landfill has been actively collecting landfill gas for beneficial use since the 1980s.
Most of the landfill gas from the landfill is currently processed for sale to Rolls-Royce Corp. Indianapolis facilities for use as boiler and/or generator fuel and to Vertellus Specialties Inc. Indianapolis facilities for boiler fuel.
Over time, approximately 20 percent (by weight) of typical municipal solid waste is recoverable as landfill gas.