Santa Barbara County’s pile of garbage is set to more than double in size at the Tajiguas Landfill.

A review board at the California Environmental Protection Agency headquarters unanimously approved the proposed expansion of Tajiguas, the county’s receptacle for the accumulated waste of its residents, meaning an additional 56 acres will house local refuse. This “front canyon expansion” will combine with the 27 acres the landfill presently occupies to total roughly 83 acres and raise the mound from 500 to 660 feet above sea level.

Phil Demery, director of the county’s Public Works Dept., said the expansion would allow for further improvements to local waste management.

“In 2001, the Tajiguas Landfill was recognized by the Solid Waste Association of North America for management excellence as the second best landfill in North America. We hope this expansion … will enable us to become the best landfill next year,” Demery said.

Although Santa Barbara County already recycles more than 60 percent of its garbage, Public Works Senior Program Specialist Carlyle Johnston said the approval of the expansion was a “good faith effort” to contain garbage within the county until recycling rates climb even higher.

“It’s common [for state government] to encourage recycling throughout the county, but what’s uncommon is Santa Barbara County’s success so far,” Johnston said. “Nobody wants a landfill. Someday we might get away from using landfills altogether as we approach [higher recycling rates].”

Not all counties can process their own garbage without shipping it to neighboring counties. Smaller counties have no suitable waste facilities while heavily populated ones like Los Angeles County generate a higher volume of garbage than their landfills can fit. Johnston said the larger landfill allows the garbage to stay local longer.

“It means the county can still handle its own waste locally for at least 15 more years,” he said.

Demery said the larger landfill would assure Santa Barbara County’s status at the forefront of recycling.

“Over 60 percent of our waste is recycled here. That fact makes us leaders in [California] and the nation as a whole,” he said.

Some locals disagree, however. Isla Vista Recreation and Park District boardmember Ariana Katovich said the approved expansion marks a step backward.

“It’s more opportunity for more trash,” she said.

Katovich, an organizer for the Sierra Club, said local waste management should concentrate more on stringent recycling enforcement, especially for green waste.

“There hasn’t been enough done to address recycling. Besides, the landfill was put in an inappropriate location in the first place,” she said.

Johnston said the Public Works Dept. is looking into such programs to help alleviate the county’s reliance upon the landfill.

“”We’re working on bringing recycling to multi-unit buildings in the county’s unincorporated areas,” Johnston said.