3 Ways to Improve Landfill Efficiency

Landfills are  the final destination for the disposal of solid waste, and they serve a key role in managing our trash. However, not all landfills are efficient. Here we look at three ways that landfills can improve efficiency: reducing landfill gas emissions, controlling odors with permeable covers, and recycling construction debris such as concrete and bricks.

Reducing Landfill Gas Emissions

Landfill gas, sometimes called leachate gas or landfill breath, is composed of roughly 50% methane and is produced by the decomposition of organic materials. Landfill gas emissions are detrimental due to their impact on climate change. However, efficient landfills can mitigate these emissions through several methods:

Ongoing Monitoring

Careful landfill construction and regular monitoring can help prevent the buildup of gas. When a landfill has developed a sophisticated system to track data about their gases, they can continue to monitor it throughout the life cycle of the landfill.

Landfill Gas Recovery

Another way that landfills can reduce their greenhouse gas emissions is by capturing these methane-rich gases during the decomposition process and burning them off for energy or converting them to less harmful natural gas.

Landfill Gas Utilization

Landfills can also be designed to use landfill gases, especially methane, as fuel. Methane is 20x more potent than carbon dioxide, so active landfills that are seeking to minimize their impact on climate change can use landfill gas to power trucks or equipment that they need.

Odor Control

While methane is the more potent greenhouse gas, VOCs (volatile organic compounds) are often more of an issue for landfill gas. These compounds make up the majority of the gases produced by landfills and include acetone, benzene, butane, xylene and toluene. These gases can pose a serious problem at landfills that do not have the proper odor control measures in place such as permeable covers or scrubbers.

Landfill Scrubbers

These systems remove VOCs from landfill gas and send them into the atmosphere where they are less harmful. They can be installed in conjunction with emissions reduction programs or independently.

Permeable Covers

These covers are made of plastic, stone, biodegradable materials, or a mixture of all three. They allow rainwater to pass through but prevent the escape of landfill gases which would otherwise be emitted into the atmosphere over time. By allowing gas migration to take place beneath the cover, the extent of odor escaping through these covers is minimized.

Another benefit of a biodegradable permeable barrier is that it can be made out of recycled materials, such as recycled railroad ties, providing another method of reusing waste. 

Landfill Recycling

Another way that landfills can reduce their environmental impact is by recycling construction waste such as concrete slabs, bricks, and steel beams. By recycling this material for reuse in other projects or products, landfills are keeping it out of the waste cycle. They are also preventing these items from being dumped in illegal or unofficial landfill sites that don’t have proper controls in place to prevent environmental damage.

Upselling Construction Waste

When landfills offer to take in construction material for recycling, they often pay a fee for the right to keep the material rather than charging per ton. This gives them incentive to waste little of the material and leave it in a useful state for reuse.

Recycling Concrete Asphalt

Concrete slabs, bricks and other industry byproducts can be recycled into asphalt or reused as aggregate in new projects rather than being buried in a landfill. These materials are not harmful when they are recycled and can be reused for several decades which prevents landfill space from being filled with construction waste.

Managing Landfill Waste: Reduce Costs and Increase Efficiency

When a landfill isn’t careful about the way that they manage their trash, there is a higher risk of injury or environmental damage due to an improperly managed landfill. While most landfills do a good job of managing their waste, there are many ways that they can reduce costs and increase efficiency.

Installing gas collection systems is just one way that landfills can become more efficient. Other ways include recycling construction waste, selling this material to other companies, converting landfill waste into energy or compost, and acquiring the proper permits for landfilling materials that are dangerous in the wrong setting.