Welcome back to another Saturday with Shavara green friends of Oklahoma. My goal, as always, is to blow your mind with information on ways we are impacting our environment and how that impact can be reduced. Last time we learned about ways to prevent plastic bags from entering into landfills where the life expectancy of the bag stretched to close to 1000 years. It only felt right that our next topic would be diving deep into the dirty, dark and pretty scary world of Landfills.
There are approximately 3,536 landfills in the United States to date. The definition of a landfill provided by encyclopedia.com, “A landfill is a large area of land or an excavated site that has been designed to receive waste. I’ve always had this image of what I think a landfill is supposed to look like, which is this large dumping location where trash builds up, free to be an eye sore and a smelly pit of doom. To my surprise landfills have a far more intricate design than I initially envisioned.
The typical landfill of today is lined with a layer of clay and protective plastic to prevent waste and gross garbage juice properly named leachate from leaking into the ground or groundwater. The waste is compacted and then covered with additional soil to cut down on odor, pest and wind disturbance. Even more interesting is that there is actually a draining system located at the bottom of the landfill that collects the garbage juice… I mean leachate that flows from the waste. According to science.howstuffworks.com, the most important function of landfills for both aesthetic and environmental reasons is to bury the trash in such a way that it will be isolated from groundwater, will be kept dry and will not be in contact with air.
One downside to having such a meticulous process for maintaining a landfill is that waste stays intact for a very long time. The lack of oxygen and little moisture dramatically slows the breakdown of waste; which means that even when a landfill closes business, the site, especially the groundwater, must continue to be monitored for up to 30 years. Within this secret landfill pit hidden away by dirt and soil there is something very interesting taking place; natural gas, which is caused by decomposing organic material. Methane gas, Carbon Dioxide and other gases are produced as a result of the decomposing materials and the lack of oxygen present. This gas nicknamed LFG is monitored and can be collected to serve other purposes. You may be thinking: What an environmentally aware concept?! Even more surprising is that most waste companies do have the desire to reduce their impact on the environment, so I suppose they are not the big bad earth hurting monsters they may have been thought to be.
Many waste companies capture and then convert this natural occurring gas and use it as a renewable energy source according to epa.gov. There is an entire program dedicated to the reuse of landfill gas called Landfill Methane Outreach Program (LMOP), which is a voluntary program that works with industry stakeholders and waste officials to reduce or avoid methane emissions coming from landfills. The LMOP encourages the recovery and reuse of the gas that is generated in municipal solid waste. The human (specifically American) environmental footprint is astronomical regarding filling up landfills. In 2013, we produced roughly 254 million tons of trash, and only recycled about 87 million tons of that material as recorded by epa.gov. This sadly leaves the recycle percentage at a measly 34 percent. Even more appalling is that we produce 4.40 pounds of waste per person per day. The only upside to producing this amount of waste is that it makes landfill solid waste the third largest source of human related methane emissions, which if captured can be used as a significant energy source.
Landfills remain a necessary evil, but if we can promote turning the drawbacks of maintaining them into positive wins for sustaining a healthy environment then we are headed in the right direction. Improving the recycle rate should continue to be an important mission; globally, nationally and statewide. The amount of recyclable material that unnecessarily makes it to the landfills will give way to the growth of landfills. Remember whenever possible; Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.
KOB’s very own,