When you think of green energy, a few images may pop into your mind. Perhaps, a picturesque wind turbine farm in the prairies of Oregon? Or maybe, a field of glistening solar panels in the sunny Nevada deserts. What about a putrid smelling landfill? Although it is not their primary purpose, landfills are indeed capable of producing energy for consumers to use.
Methane is one of the main byproducts of waste decomposition in landfills; it is primarily formed from the decomposition of food waste and paper waste. In the United States, Americans produce over 250 million tons of garbage that ends up in landfills. Also, on average, each ton of waste produces 120 kg of methane. Taking in the sheer amount of waste Americans produce into consideration, a remarkable amount of methane is generated from landfills.
Landfill gas utilization has benefits for multiple parties. For the landfills, selling methane to energy companies provides additional income and, the landfills receive tax incentives from various governmental agencies, including the Department of Energy. Perhaps the greatest beneficiary of landfill gas utilization is our planet. This form of green energy can collect up to 90% of the methane produced by landfills that would have otherwise ended up in the atmosphere. Using methane from landfills may also reduce our use of non-environmentally friendly energy sources like oil.
In 2007, 450 of the 2300 landfills in the US have gas collection systems and with each year, more landfills are implementing those gas collection systems. While collecting methane is neither the primary, nor intended purpose of landfills, it does reduce their environmental impact on global warming and pollution.