Where do drugs seized by police go in North Dakota? Into the landfill

Inside their buckets, the drugs are buried and crushed by compactors like the one pictured above, then covered with more trash from the area. (Photo courtesy of the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality)
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Ever wonder what happens to the drugs the police department collects? They go to the same place your household trash does — the landfill.

The disposal methods are part of new North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality guidelines that took effect May 16.

Diana Trussell is the solid waste manager for the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality's Division of Waste Management, the department which created the guidelines.

Trussell said that shortly after the state's only incinerator shut down in May 2018, her department started getting calls from law enforcement about other options for drug disposal.

"They wanted to find out what the options were for evidence destruction, so that’s how the solid waste department got involved. A lot of our municipal solid waste landfills were already working with law enforcement, but nothing was formally established, so for everyone, it was better to have a formal policy," she said.


Only 13 landfills in the state are approved as drug-disposal sites, including Dickinson's.

Trussell explained the characteristics that the sites have to have to be approved.

"They are a lined facility, meaning they all have a clay liner," she said. "They also have what we call a geo-synthetic liner or plastic liner with that. All of these sites are required to have groundwater monitoring, and we take collection systems, so any liquids that get into the landfill, they actually pull those out and run them through treatment."

The department provided a list to law enforcement of the acceptable landfills and what they would and would not accept.

"We do have some that weren’t willing to take ... right away the prescription drugs, and so law enforcement would have the option to utilize one of the other sites," Trussell said.

Law enforcement is not required to use the landfills for disposal, however.

"All we were doing was providing an option at the landfills. There are some law enforcement that is going to Minnesota to one of their incinerators," Trussell said.

Dickinson Police Captain David Wilkie said that although there are some initial upfront costs associated with the new method, he is glad to have the guidelines.


"The drugs and the drug paraphernalia, we were taking it to the baler and having it baled into the bales … so we were guaranteed that stuff was getting crushed and it was getting added to other materials so people wouldn’t be able to find it," he said. "Then the baler stopped working. They aren’t baling anymore. At that point, we just started to stockpile our drug evidence … until we could determine how we were supposed to take care of it. I knew that they were having issues with that incinerator ... I haven’t taken anything to Fargo to be incinerated in probably five years, so I’ve got quite a bit of drug evidence in our vault. This will make it a lot easier for us."

To dispose of alcohol and tobacco products at the landfill, the products must be placed inside a container, driven over three times then buried under one foot of waste. Drugs including marijuana, mushrooms and prescription drugs should be placed inside a container that is leak-proof and puncture-resistant, covered with at least two feet of waste, driven over three times then covered with more waste.

To dispose of drugs such as heroin and cocaine, which could become airborne, law enforcement officials should fill a container that is leak-proof and puncture resistant half-full with the drug, followed by water or waste paint.

"Once that container is placed in the designated spot in the landfill, they’re supposed to put waste on top and run over it. We recognize everything is going to break open," Trussell said. "We simulated it with powdered sugar. If you’ve ever seen a bag explode, you get that cloud. We don’t want to have that exposure risk for anybody with it, so it actually makes sure those powders stay down."

Mixing the drugs with liquid also makes them unusable — were someone to actually find them.

Wilkie said there's no specific place at the landfill where they would take the drugs.

"They’re going to take us to a spot in the dump ground which has the barrier under it, which is where they put most of the garbage … Wood and things that are biodegradable go in a different section. The city garbage — the stuff that they’re not going to go through and separate — goes all into that same spot, so you’re getting daily garbage over top of whatever we’re depositing out there," he said.

Even if someone did know where the drugs were deposited, they would still be hard to find.


"With the amount of waste they’re taking in everyday … by the end of the day, most of these will be buried 10, 20, sometimes up to 30 feet deep, and that waste is heavily compacted so you can’t dig through it with your hands," Trussell said.

All of that trash gets compacted so tightly that when the department tested out their guidelines, they had trouble moving it with a shovel.

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