The City of Fresno has disposed of municipal solid waste at the American Avenue Landfill since 1993. Prior to that, the City disposed of its municipal solid waste at the Fresno Sanitary Landfill between its opening in 1937 and its close in 1989. Information about the significance and operation of each of these disposal sites can be found below.
Solid Waste Facilities
Fresno Sanitary Landfill
The Fresno Sanitary Landfill (FSL) is located three miles southwest of the City of Fresno. The landfill is bounded on the north by Jensen Avenue, on the east by West Avenue, on the south by North Avenue, and on the west by agricultural fields beyond which is Marks Avenue. The landfill covers an area of approximately 140 acres. It is rectangular in shape with a length of about 4,200 feet in a north-south direction and a width of about 1,250 feet along its east-west axis. Before the landfill was constructed, garbage was thrown into pits, burned, or fed to hogs.
Between the opening in 1937 and its close in 1989, the FSL accepted municipal solid waste from the City of Fresno. The operation began in the north section of the landfill in 1937. In its early years of operation, the FSL was primarily located north of Annadale Avenue. The City expanded to the south of Annadale in 1945. The original 20-acre site had been expanded several times. In 1966, the site was 100 acres. In 1969, the city acquired additional land extending down North Avenue, bringing the FSL to its present size of 140 acres. The FSL officially closed on June 30, 1987, as the nation’s oldest operating landfill, with a closure ceremony attended by 75 people.
Changes in federal law, especially after 1970, placed much higher environmental standards on landfills than those considered in the 1930s and 1940s. The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), passed in 1970 and subsequently expanded, gave the Environmental Protection Agency extensive regulatory authority over municipal solid waste, particularly in the design and operation of landfills and incinerators. Under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), which established the Superfund program, landfills were subject to stricter regulation and financial liability. The 1984 amendments, in particular, attempted to tighten standards with respect to landfills.
The FSL was first evaluated by the Superfund program as a result of a notification filed by the City of Fresno Solid Waste Management Division on May 27, 1981. The city began the process of closing the landfill by filing a Negative Declaration with the California Regional Water Quality Control Board in August 1981. On October 4, 1989, the site was placed on the National Priorities List of Superfund Sites as defined in Section 105 of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA).
In March 1999, the Fresno City Council voted to request bids to convert a portion of the overall landfill site into a sports complex, calling for nine full-size soccer field, six smaller soccer fields, six full-size softball fields, and a lake approximately 300 by 100 yards and 18 to 20 feet deep. These features were to be added to the city-owned land encompassing the landfill-outside the proposed boundary of the historic designation—but not on the landfill proper. As part of this project, the landfill mound itself was to receive an additional 4 to 5 feet of cover. This began with a 24-inch layer of soil and waste material covered by a flexible membrane designed to prevent water from getting garbage and to control landfill gas movement. An outermost 3-inch layer of soil and vegetation topped off the mound. The grand opening of the Regional Sports Complex was held in August 2003.
The FSL is the oldest “true” sanitary landfill in the United States, and the oldest compartmentalized municipal landfill in the western United States, holding the service record of more than fifty years of continuous operation. It is the first landfill to employ the trench method of disposal and the first to utilize compaction. The FSL was considered to be a substantial improvement over the accepted methods of sanitary waste disposal at the time and a model for other landfills across the country.
The man responsible for developing, implementing, and disseminating the sanitary landfill in the United States was Jean Vincenz (1894-1989), who served as commissioner of public works, city engineer, and manager of utilities in Fresno from 1931 to 1941. When Vincenz became commissioner, he recommended not renewing the franchise of the Fresno Disposal Company, which operated an incinerator. Vincenz considered it little more than “a dutch oven,” of which the city had received many complaints. He favored public administration of the collection and disposal of solid waste.
Prior to developing his sanitary fill in Fresno, Vincenz studied British controlled tipping techniques, visited several California cities, and consulted with a New York engineer active in developing its sanitary fill. He came to believe that a true sanitary landfill required different elements than those utilized elsewhere, especially systematic construction of refuse cells, a deeper cover of dirt between layers of refuse, and compaction of both the earth cover and the waste. The trench system and compaction ultimately employed at Fresno distinguished the FSL was unique and became a prototype for modern sanitary landfills. No other solid waste disposal option was as widely utilized in the United States, and elsewhere, as the sanitary landfill.
The initial sanitary landfill in Fresno, an experimental or demonstration fill, was opened on October 15, 1934, at the City’s sewer farm on Jensen Street, west of Cornelia Avenue, approximately three miles west of the final property. It was situated on a flat field several hundred feet from the main road. An option had been obtained by the city for a 120-acre plot of farmland within two miles of the city limits, but a petition filed with the city commission complained about the possible negative effects of the dumping. That option lapsed and the sewer farm site was selected. While the city sewer farm now extends over 2,000 acres and is the site of the Fresno-Clovis Regional Wastewater Reclamation Facility (RWRF), the exact location of the original landfill cannot be confirmed. The permanent FSL property was obtained exclusively for use as a sanitary landfill, based on Vincenz’s original concepts at the sewer farm, and was regarded as the city’s primary solid waste disposal facility.
The 2 ½ years of operation at the sewer farm site was considered a success. The experimental facility was not large enough to accommodate the waste of Fresno for a long period of time and Vincenz was concerned that the property was too far from Fresno to make transportation costs affordable. He, therefore, sought a more permanent site for a landfill closer to downtown Fresno. A 90-acre parcel three miles from the current city hall was purchased in 1937, which became the permanent Fresno Sanitary Landfill.
The Fresno Sanitary Landfill is an important historical site because it established the prototype for the modern sanitary landfill in the United States, particularly in the developmental stages of that technology from 1937 to 1950. Vincenz’s design, incorporating the trench method, layering of waste and dirt, and the daily covering of the fill area introduced a method of disposal that for its time provided a systematic and hygienic method of disposal through the use of the best technology available. No other solid waste disposal option was as widely utilized in the United States and elsewhere as the sanitary landfill. And although the method has drawn criticism in recent years, there is not likely to be a single disposal option developed for many years that will attain such universal acceptance and use.
The Fresno Sanitary Landfill was designated as a National Historic Landmark on August 7, 2001. It is also listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
1940 Public Works Engineers’ Yearbook: The Sanitary Fill Method of Refuse Disposal
American Avenue Landfill
The City of Fresno has disposed of municipal solid waste at the American Avenue Landfill since 1993. The garbage from customers’ gray carts is collected by the City of Fresno Solid Waste Division and is taken to the Cedar Avenue Receiving and Transfer Station (CARTS) facility for sorting and transfer. Once off-loaded at the transfer station, the garbage is then loaded onto large trucks and taken to the American Avenue Landfill.
The County of Fresno operates the American Avenue Disposal Site, which serves as the county’s regional landfill. It is located near the City of San Joaquin and began operation in 1992 for public and commercial solid waste haulers. It is estimated that the landfill will be able to continue operation until 2031 when it will be full and will have to be closed.
American Avenue Landfill accepts many types of solid waste, but not everything. For more information about what items can be placed in your gray cart, and therefore sent to the landfill, visit the What goes where? Green. Gray. Blue.
The County of Fresno’s Regional Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) Facility is located at the American Avenue Disposal Site for customers to drop off hazardous waste products for safe disposal. Additional information about HHW disposal can be found on the Hazardous Waste and Sharps Disposal web page.
For more information, visit Fresno County’s Landfill Operations website.