BROOKSVILLE — The sparkles coming from the top of Hernando County's landfill aren't from diamonds, but from a gem of a money-saving idea.
Each day, the huge pile of trash and other refuse collected around the county must be covered to prevent the wind from blowing it around and to keep the thousands of birds attracted to the dump from pecking at it.
The usual method is for workers to spray a layer of liquid clay, said Utilities Department supervisor Joe Stapf. But that costs money.
Meanwhile, the county was finding no buyers for the tons of recycled glass that was dropped off for recycling containers.
So landfill officials used one problem to help fix another.
For several months, workers have steered a bulldozer over the recycled glass bottles and containers, reducing them to bits of no more than one-inch diameter. Then they spread the glass over the landfill at night.
Solid waste workers also spray discarded latex paint, when available, onto the trash pile. The paint and glass are essentially free, except for collection and transfer to the landfill, still cheaper than buying clay.
"The reason for using those products," Stapf said, is that "they don't take up as much space as soil."
The landfill business is all about saving space."
However, the glass supply is limited, shrunk from 30 to 40 percent of inflow from a few years ago, he said.
About four years ago, the county's limited curbside recycling program discontinued the collection of glass because it was not cost effective given the limited number of buyers for the glass.
At the voluntary collection sites around the county, liquor and beer bottles are still standard donations, augmented slightly by glass containers that once held everything from vinegar and baby food to pickles and olives.
Nowadays, Stapf noted, most groceries come in cans or plastic containers.
That means not enough crushed glass is available every day to cover the 400 tons of refuse that trucks haul in daily, leading to the more expensive clay layer.
It is all reflective of how the economy has hit Hernando County's recycling program.
Stapf estimated that recycling income this year will plunge to $400,000, compared to $900,000 in 2008.
Even with the glass, paint and clay covering the landfill, the trash pile is still proving irresistible to some creatures.
"There's a flock of seagulls up there, vultures and bald eagles,'' said Scott Harper, county solid waste manager. "They go after the restaurant loads and kitchen waste. They have such a sense of smell. They are meat eaters."
The hovering 3,000 to 4,000 birds are not endangered by the crushed glass, he said, because they ignore it.
Beth Gray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.