Easing up on the (Landfill) Gas

U.S. EPA says waste and recycling industry innovation is helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

April 22, 2013
REW Staff

The waste and recycling industry is continuing to reduce its release of greenhouse gases - even as waste volumes increase, according to the latest greenhouse gas inventory released by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“Our industry has been diligent and has invested in new equipment and facilities to reduce emissions of methane and other gases from landfills,” says Environmental Industry Associations (EIA) President and CEO Sharon H. Kneiss. “Furthermore, we have turned potential emissions into an important energy source,” she adds. “We are environmentalists in every sense of the word. The many companies responsible for this reduction should be proud of this accomplishment.”

The U.S. landfills 6 percent less than it did 20 years ago, but methane emissions have declined by 30 percent during the same period. This has happened as a result of converting more methane to energy and improved flaring of methane emissions and oxidation techniques, according to Kneiss.

There are 594 landfill gas-to-energy sites in the United States that generated 1,813 megawatts (MW) of energy and 312 million standard cubic feet a day of gas. This is enough energy to directly power 1 million homes and heat 729,000, respectively, according to the EIA.

Methane gas collected at landfills is used to power homes, businesses and government facilities across the nation. Some of it also is used to fuel garbage and recycling trucks. Landfill-gas-to-energy projects and other forms of biomass-derived energy make up the almost half of the nation's renewable energy supply, almost the same amount as is derived from solar, wind, geothermal and hydropower combined, according to the EPA.

Landfills are the third highest producer of anthropogenic methane in the United States. Natural gas recovery and ruminant animals, such as cows, produce more methane emissions than landfills. The gases generated from landfills, composting, and incineration were approximately 122 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2011.

More information about the greenhouse gas inventory report is available here.