Americans alone produce about 300 million tons of refuse per year. That’s 300 million tons of waste being sent to our 3,100 active landfills each and every year.
But what if these landfill sites (and the thousands of others across the planet) were really potential gold mines for clean energy?
Did you know that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) currently oversees 650 landfill gas (LFG) energy projects across the U.S.?
The EPA’s Landfill Methane Outreach Program is designed to recover and utilize biogases that are generated from landfills. Primarily methane — a potent greenhouse gas and a leading contributor to climate change. (Methane is 28 to 36 times more effective than CO2 at trapping heat in the atmosphere over a 100-year period.)
Once the methane is captured, it can be used as a renewable fuel for power plants and manufacturing facilities. And capturing biogases not only reduces air pollution but also offsets the use of non-renewable resources.
In 2015, the 650 operational LFG energy projects in 49 states generated 16 billion kilowatt hours of electricity. That’s enough energy to power nearly 1.3 million homes for a year.
And manufacturers are also taking advantage of this alternative energy source. For instance, General Motors currently uses LFG at four of its manufacturing and assembly plants. As a result, the automaker has realized energy cost savings of about $500,000 per year at each of the four facilities.
Producing clean energy from LFG reduces greenhouse gas emissions and can ultimately decrease the use of fossil fuels.
The EPA estimates that annual emission reductions by LFG energy projects are approximately equivalent to the following:
Just outside of Tel Aviv, at the foot of what was formerly known as “Garbage Mountain,” sits a most unusual park. A recycling park. At the site of the country’s largest landfill.
Before it was finally shut down in 1998, the Hiriya waste dump had accumulated 25 million tons of waste. It was half a mile long, and 261 feet tall. It was an eyesore, an environmental nightmare, and it stank.
To control the fumes, the landfill was capped in 2000. But methane and other biogases were still leaking from the site. So 84 wells were drilled into the mountain. The biogas was piped to a nearby factory, and became it’s primary fuel source.
But that was just the beginning. Over the course of the next 13 years, the former landfill was gradually transformed into three separate recycling facilities, located at the foot of the mountain: a waste separation center, a green waste facility that produces mulch, and a building materials recycling plant.
The park also includes a center for environmental education. Here’s a video which the center uses to educate children about the history of the site and purpose of the recycling park:
The Ariel Sharon Recycling Park is still under construction. Once complete in 2020, it will be three times the size of New York’s Central Park.
But that’s not all. The recycling park is also on the forefront of other emerging technologies.
For example, Israeli officials recently launched a refuse-derived fuel (RDF) plant at the park. It’s the largest RDF facility in the world, and it provides alternative fuel to the country’s leading cement producer. To create RDF, municipal solid waste is shredded, dried and baled. It is then transported to end users, where it is burned to produce electricity, with greatly reduced emissions.
And now the Europeans are taking this clean energy technology a step further.
The European Commission’s Horizon 2020 Programme has recently funded two flagship projects for municipal and industrial waste. These projects utilize plasma gasification technology to transform RDF into hydrogen and a mineral residue which is then upcycled into a green, low-carbon cement.
Amazing! Perhaps it’s time we change the way we think about landfills.