By Peter Anderson
Landfills, the current destination for a majority of our trash, are a major source of methane.
Recent accounts that have filtered back to Climate Progress from Rio+20 suggested satisfaction with a World Bank Report concluding “Integrated waste management” (which purports to prioritize recycling over landfilling), is being implemented in the developed countries.
We have been left with the impression it is just the undeveloped world landfills still present a problem.
But, stripped of its window dressing, “integrated” is just bureaucratic speak for a blank check to the U.S. disposal industry. Sagaciously, the national firms duly consider all options, and then,\ select the one that is most profitable to them (other than in green cities that insist upon better than that). Morgan Stanley Dean Witter reports that the industry’s view is: “recycling has long been the enemy of the solid waste industry, stealing volumes otherwise headed for landfills … their most promising assets.”
Fortunately, one organization did not ignore the waste sector. In 2009, the Sierra Club undertook a year-long due diligence. Peeling back the onion layers, its technical experts found that industry’s claims – that their operators captured most of the methane generated in landfills, and that landfill-gas-to-energy (LFGTE) miraculously converted lemons into lemonade – were as bogus as the ethanol deceit. In fact, landfills were responsible for almost five times more GHG emissions than understood. Attempts to recover energy from inherently low Btu and dirty gas only made bad things worse.
Methane is so potent a greenhouse gas, even small leaks from major generators of methane are a huge concern – depending how much escapes.
Major volume of methane generated
Over the 100 years or so that landfills generate gas, methane equivalent to roughly 472 million tons of carbon dioxide will be generated from just one year of municipal trash in the U.S. That is a third more than from heating and cooling all of the homes in the country.
Most landfill gas escapes