Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Landfill Gas to Energy

Waste management companies such as Allied Waste and Waste Management are investing hundreds of millions of dollars to produce electricity from methane gas released in their landfills. In the past, methane gas released from decaying material in landfills was simply burned off to the atmosphere. But there is growing investment in capturing methane to generate electricity. There are now over 200 plants that capture methane gas from landfills to produce electricity and the companies plan to continue to expand these operations.

Understandably the waste companies spin this as part of their sustainability efforts. Typically the companies will highlight how they are recapturing this wasted greenhouse gas to generate electricity and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. There is truth to this and sales representatives are good at using this in their pitch. They will put you at ease with the 180 tons of waste your organization generates each year because it is going to generate electricity. While it is true that electricity will likely be derived from our decaying waste, the massive amounts of waste we generate still is something we need to worry about.

The waste generated at Lasell College does make it to a landfill that captures methane gas to produce electricity. Of course this plant is located somewhere in South Carolina! Our waste is loaded up on trains every night in Boston and hauled down to landfills in South Carolina. The costs of hauling the waste south on trains and dumping it into landfill there are less than utilizing landfills in the northeast.

I completely support the idea of capturing methane gas from landfills to produce electricity. However I also recognize that we waste too much in this country. We should not feel at ease with our waste generation patterns because we know it will help produce electricity.

Waste management companies are increasing their offerings of recycling services to fill a demand. This will help keep material out of landfills but it will not reduce our waste generation. We cannot rely on waste management companies to find solutions on how to reduce and reuse our waste though. Remember we pay them to take our waste (recycling and trash) by the ton.

Reducing our waste in the first place is the real challenge. We need to pressure manufacturers to minimize packaging. We need to buy less and share more. We need to eliminate the thow away culture that has taken control of our communities. At Lasell College, coffee cups and water bottles are two of the leading materials that end up in our waste. There is a simple solution, reusuable mugs and bottles, for both of these but we have not been able to create that culture yet. There are some college campuses where you risk being mauled if you are seen carrying a paper coffee cup to class. How do we get to that point?

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