Shut down the Seneca Meadows landfill

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The Finger Lakes region has long been celebrated for its natural beauty, shimmering lakes and rolling hills, and its thriving agricultural and wine scene. But today, that legacy is being overshadowed by the looming presence of the Seneca Meadows landfill in Seneca Falls, just a few miles from the shores of Cayuga Lake. The landfill is a symptom of our society’s throwaway culture and environmental negligence, and a glaring contradiction to New York’s climate and environmental goals. 

Holly Rockwell

Seneca Meadows was slated to shut down in 2025, but its for-profit, Texas-based operator, Waste Connections, has applied for a permit to extend operations through 2040 and substantially grow the dump’s already massive footprint by 47 acres and 70 feet in height. 

Our natural world is not a limitless repository for human waste. It is a sacred creation, a gift that sustains all life. The landfill’s continued operation not only desecrates this gift but also endangers the health and well-being of communities, particularly those facing other systemic oppressions, including indigenous communities and rural and low-wealth communities. 

The Finger Lakes region, including Rochester, which is fondly referred to as the “gateway” to the Finger Lakes, relies heavily on its natural resources and a $3 billion wine and agritourism economy that employs 60,000 people. The landfill tarnishes the appeal of our region to tourists. The odor is pervasive, the truck traffic is unbearable, and the mountain of garbage, which can be seen for miles, is hideous. The expansion of the landfill will exacerbate this issue, deterring visitors and harming local businesses that depend on tourism. 

But beyond the economic impacts, the landfill threatens the intrinsic value of our natural environment. Nature has value in its own right, independent of human uses. It is our responsibility, as creatures living on earth, to uphold and cherish that value, not strip it away. 

Yet, Seneca Meadows stands as a symbol of environmental degradation, threatening the region and the state at large. Pollution from the landfill, including the release of toxic PFAS chemicals, contaminates our water and soil and taints our environment, posing severe health risks such as cancer and immune system disorders. This environmental injustice is a moral failure that we cannot ignore.

Landfills are major drivers of climate change, emitting huge amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas that is 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Seneca Meadows alone is responsible for roughly 16.94 billion cubic feet of fugitive emissions. These emissions contribute to the global climate crisis, exacerbating extreme weather events, rising sea levels, and systemic climate disruption. Climate change poses the greatest threat to humanity of our time.

Decisive action to close the landfill and pivot towards a zero-waste future is a critical step to right our wrongs and ensure a safe future for our neighbors and our environment. Investing in recycling and composting programs, enforcing producer responsibility, and supporting reusable and refillable products can create jobs and stimulate local economies. Legislative initiatives like the packaging reduction and recycling infrastructure act are essential steps in this direction. By prioritizing sustainable practices, we can reduce waste, conserve resources, and protect our environment for future generations.

The call to close Seneca Meadows is echoed by a growing coalition of voices across the state. Municipalities (including the city of Rochester), county governments, public officials, business owners, and residents have united in opposition to the landfill’s expansion. 

The spiritual and environmental integrity of Seneca Falls and the surrounding Finger Lakes region must be preserved. This land, near the heart of Cayuga Nation, has been home to the Haudenosaunee people, who have been stewards of these lands for centuries. Their wisdom and advocacy remind us that the health of our environment is deeply connected to the health of our communities.

The time has come for New York to honor its commitments to environmental justice and climate leadership. Closing the Seneca Meadows landfill would signal a firm commitment to these values. It would demonstrate that we are ready to transition to a circular, zero-waste economy that prioritizes the health of our planet and its inhabitants.

We call on Gov. Kathy Hochul and the Department of Environmental Conservation to heed the voices of the community, respect the sanctity of our natural world, and close the Seneca Meadows landfill once and for all. Let us not be remembered for the mountains of trash we leave behind but for the legacy of stewardship and sustainability we create for future generations. 

­­­­­­­Holly Rockwell leads the Justice & Care for Creation Office of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Rochester.

The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected]

9 thoughts on “Shut down the Seneca Meadows landfill

  1. Yes, we are still generating trash that needs to go somewhere. Climate activists this past year worked hard to get the Packaging Reduction & Recycling Act passed in the NYS legislature to reduce the volume of trash and single use plastic in particular. The NYS Assembly didn’t put high enough priority on it to get it passed this session. Please tell your NYS Assembly member it is important to pass the Packaging Reduction & Recycling Act so we can reduce the trash coming to the beautiful Finger Lakes.

  2. Holly, keep up the good fight. All you suggest is great, but won’t there always be some waste? Can everything be recycled 100%? If not where will it go?

  3. Please do not expand the landfill at Seneca meadows!
    Our environment is suffering
    We need to care for our environment

  4. Very good choice of words and explanations.
    I live across a large field from the Bethlehem landfill who wants to destroy heritage and forever preserved land that represents ww1 ww2
    The Bethlehem Steel proving grounds and as such when it was preserved was Explicitly sated it can never ever be developed or expessially used as a landfill.
    If you are interested please seek out Citizens for Responcible Development on Facebook. A very informative group of people trying to save lover saucon township PA.
    But you are exactly right where to go with the garbage is a good question.
    And rightfully so as the landfill here I speak of takes in 60, 70% of its intake from. NY and NJ.
    Thank you for your time.

  5. Ok, my degree is in environmental studies, so while I certainly do not disagree with the sentiments of throw away culture and greenhouse gasses, closing a landfill will not change any of that.

    I also know that NIMBY is a thing, however the Seneca landfill has been there for decades, will not go away simply because you stop adding garbage to it, and relocating that garbage elsewhere just moves the problem but does not solve it.

    The same amount of garbage is going to be generated by the general public and it needs to go somewhere, whether it goes to that landfill or another is relatively irrelevant (except to the people that are near it) to the overall global ecosystem. My suggestion would be that if you’re going to provide a solution such as “shut down the dump” you also provide a solution that reduces the garbage created that is put in that dump equivalent to the lost dump capacity. Relocating it to a different dump is no solution at all.

  6. Where are you going to dump your trash dear? If you could magically make the landfill disappear tomorrow, how would you replace the jobs lost? The landfill is iconic in the sense it represents to me how much the area has economically declined in the last 50 years, thus its lost a lot of industry (much due to the inhospitable stance towards business from Albany) and with it much of its political clout. Thats how you get landfills in your region. (You don’t hear about landfill expansion in the greater NYC area)

  7. There has never been a schedule for closing the landfill. The expiration of a permit does not require closure — it requires a renewal in order to continue operation. They are not proposing to increase the footprint — the proposal is to use an area which previously was used for burying trash.

    Closing the landfill now will not eliminate any of the problems cited in the article — the landfill is there, has been operating since 1958 and is not going anywhere.

    Citing the Cayugas seems unrelated. They left the area during the Revolutionary War and now some have returned, causing problems far in excess of their small numbers.

    • FIRST OF ALL THE LANDFILL DOES ALOT OF GOOD FOR OUR COUNTY!!! Safes us taxes. IF WE HAD TO PAY TO HAVE OUR TRASH PICKED UP AND SHIPPED OUT YOU WOULD CONPLAIN STILL. The landfill has giving so much money to different organizations in Seneca County. Really… I feel they do an amazing job on the smell keeping it very neat looking. You probably complain about the Indians too yet you go out there and get their cheaper gas and their cigarettes. Just like I’m sure when the landfill has functions that offer free barbecue and free this and free that you’re right there in line collecting I think we should count our blessings we have the landfill and that they do as much for our community as they do. Without them, your taxes would go up. I myself and lots of family members worked years at the landfill and no lots of people that did not a ones ever been sick with cancer or a health issue. go Seneca Meadows. I hope you’re there for another 50 years and I think it all started from Dominic Tantalo the Tantalo landfill.😊

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