How Landfill Emissions Impact the Environment

We take out our trash to make our surroundings clean and protect ourselves from harmful bacteria and viruses. However, most of our household waste, such as food and yard waste, end up in sanitary landfills. Unfortunately, this contributes to the growing environmental problems.

Without proper waste management disposal, many items that shouldn’t often end up in landfills. Uncontrolled landfill problems do not only contribute to water and soil pollution but air pollution as well. When organic landfill waste decomposes, some of them emit toxic gases. Harmful landfill gases (LFG) can cause smog, which worsens respiratory health problems like asthma.

Canada and Its Landfills

A recent survey reported that Canada generates the most garbage per capita in the world. Canadians produce about 31 million tonnes of garbage annually, but only recycle about 30% of the total waste materials).

Additionally, a survey also reported that an average Canadian generates approximately 2.7 kilograms of household waste each day. According to a 2019 study, Canada ranked 8th in the most waste-producing country among the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development member states. There are more than 10,000 landfill sites across the country. Every year, 510 kilograms of waste is sent to these landfills.

The Price of Industrialization

Industrial plants contributes to the increasing methane concentration in the atmosphere

Canada has a long-standing problem with industrial waste generation. The country is driven by industrial and agricultural waste generation, which total 1.12 billion tonnes and 181 million tonnes, respectively in 2017, making the estimated total waste generation the highest in the world.

The Canadian government reported that various waste from industrial activities, such as oil refining, chemical manufacturing, and metal processing contain hazardous chemicals, such as arsenic, leads, mercury, acids, and phenols.

Methane Emissions and Its Effects

The decomposition of organic landfill waste generates a toxic gas composed primarily of methane. Methane is an odourless, colourless, and highly flammable gas. While it can be generated in landfills, this biogas is naturally occurring and can be found underground, under the sea bed, and at the earth’s lower atmospheric levels.

Approximately 22% of the total emissions from Canadian landfills is methane gas.

Effects on the Environment

Methane is a toxic greenhouse gas that worsens global warming

Methane gas is a short-lived climate pollutant, but it is a significant contributor to climate change. On a 100-year scale, this greenhouse gas is 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2) when it comes to trapping heat in the atmosphere. This makes methane emission the number one culprit for global warming.

Since the Industrial Revolution, the atmospheric concentration of methane has increased more than twice, contributing nearly 20% of global warming.

Although its concentration is approximately 200 times less than that of CO2 (the most abundant and dangerous of the greenhouse gases), the chemical shape of methane is notably effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere.

In a 20-year period, 1 tonne of methane emitted in the atmosphere has 80 times more warming effect than a tonne of CO2. This means that even a small increase of methane in the atmosphere can significantly speed up the rate at which the planet warms.

Effects on Health

Prolonged methane exposure poses health risks

If the global threat wasn’t enough, methane can also be hazardous to human health. Although methane is present in the air, it can only be a health risk when you come into contact with it. Exposure happens through:

Skin Contact

Skin contact with liquefied methane can cause:

  • frostbite
  • skin and eye burns

Inhalation

You can breathe in methane via emissions from landfills, farms, and natural gas products or appliances. When inhaled, high levels of methane in the atmosphere can lower the amount of oxygen we breathe.

Symptoms of methane inhalation include:

  • facial flushing
  • mood swings
  • loss of memory
  • nausea and vomiting
  • headaches
  • slurred speech
  • vision problems

In severe cases, people can experience:

  • increased heart rate
  • rapid breathing
  • loss of coordination
  • weakness
  • suffocation
  • numbness
  • loss of consciousness.

Prolonged exposure to high levels of methane can result in death.

The effects of methane, unfortunately, are not just hypothetical; there are a number of studies that can back up these landfill pollution facts.

Capturing Landfill Gas (LFG) Emission

Biogas plants convert methane into a clean renewable energy resource

12% of the world’s total methane emissions come from landfills. Landfill methane may contribute to the growing problem of climate change. However, it can be captured, converted, and utilized as a clean renewable energy resource so it doesn’t linger in the air and cause pollution. By installing gas collection systems, you can control and reduce methane emissions from landfills, as well as minimize the impact on the climate.

Electricity Generation

Various forms of technologies, such as reciprocating internal combustion engines, turbines, microturbines and fuel cells, can effectively convert landfill gas to electricity.

  • Reciprocating Engine – This is used in most LFG electricity applications due to its high efficiency and performance, low cost, and size various that match the gas output of many landfills.
  • Gas Turbines – This is used mainly in larger LFG energy projects.
  • Microturbines – This is used for smaller LFG volumes and in niche applications.

LFG can also generate both electricity and thermal energy using cogeneration (a.k.a. combined heat and power) projects using steam or hot water. Over the years, industrial, commercial, and institutional operations have installed cogeneration projects that utilized engines and turbines to produce both thermal energy and electricity.

Direct Use of Medium-BTU Gas

About 18% of the currently operational LFG energy projects use LFG directly to reduce the use of natural gas, coal and other forms of fuel using a boiler, dryer, kiln, and other thermal applications.

Renewable Natural Gas 

Landfill emissions can be converted to renewable natural gas. The treatment process involves increasing methane concentrations while reducing that of other landfill gases (e.g. carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and oxygen).

Renewable natural gas is a good substitute for fossil natural gas and can be used as pipeline-quality gas, liquefied natural gas and compressed gas. Approximately 10% of currently operating landfill gas energy projects are dedicated to producing renewable natural gas, which is essential for thermal applications, generation of electricity, or vehicle fuel.

Recycling reduces landfill problems while saving the community and environment

Landfills are filling up fast, but there are many things you can do to curb the problem. There are a variety of things you can do to help solve the waste problem in your own little way. You can do so by sorting your waste properly, composting organic waste materials, and recycling.

Recycling waste generated by households or businesses reduces what goes into landfills and minimizes the greenhouse effect.

If you need professional guidance or equipment for recycling, call BaleForce Recycling Equipment today at (416) 235-1900. You can also use our online contact form to send us your message.

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