We take out our trash and feel lighter and cleaner. But at the landfill, the food and yard waste that trash contains is decomposing and releasing methane, a greenhouse gas that’s 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Landfill gas also contributes to smog, worsening health problems like asthma. Globally, trash released nearly 800 million metric tons (882 million tons) of CO2 equivalent in 2010 — about 11 percent of all methane generated by humans. The United States had the highest total quantity of methane emissions from landfills in 2010: almost 130 million metric tons (143 million tons) of CO2 equivalent. China was a distant second, with 47 million (52 million), then Mexico, Russia, Turkey, Indonesia, Canada, the United Kingdom, Brazil and India, according to the Global Methane Initiative, an international partnership of government and private groups working to reduce methane emissions. Because methane typically has a much shorter life in the atmosphere than CO2 (12 years compared with 100 to 300 years for carbon dioxide), reducing methane release from landfills can help rapidly reduce climate change risk. Capture and Use For 20 years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has required some landfill operators (generally those with larger facilities) to control methane emissions by installing gas collection systems. To capture it, operators insert vertical wells into the waste and use vacuum pressure to suck up the gas. Because methane is the main component of natural gas, it can be captured and burned for energy with a much lower climate impact than letting it seep out.After capture, the gas can be processed and used in different ways. Because methane is the main component of natural gas, it can be captured and burned for energy with a much lower climate impact than letting it seep out. Three-fourths of these projects in the United States burn methane to generate electricity, according to the EPA. The captured methane also can be piped to nearby industrial customers or compressed to make compressed natural gas or cooled to make liquefied natural gas to power vehicles, as Waste Management, one of the two primary landfill companies in … Continue reading Landfills have a huge greenhouse gas problem. Here’s what we can do about it.
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