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, ends up in sanitary landfills. Unfortunately, this contributes to the growing environmental problems.
Without proper waste management disposal, uncontrolled landfill problems contribute to water and soil pollution and air pollution. 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.
How Landfill Emissions Impact the Environment
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, it has been 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
Canada has a long-standing problem with industrial waste generation. The country is driven by industrial and agricultural waste generation. In 2017, a total of 1.12 billion tonnes and 181 million tonnes were created, making the estimated total waste generation the highest globally. 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, lead, mercury, acids, and phenols.
Effects Of Methane Emissions
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.
Methane Effects on the Environment
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 20 years, 1 tonne of methane emitted in the atmosphere has 80 times more warming effect than a tonne of CO2. This means that even a tiny increase of methane in the atmosphere can significantly speed up the rate at which the planet warms.
Methane’s Impact on Biodiversity
When landfills are developed, the area losses approximately 30-300 species per hectare. Local birds and mammals are replaced by species that feed on refuse, such as crows and rats. There are also changes to the vegetation in the area, as many plants are destroyed.
Groundwater Pollution and Soil Fertility Effects from Methane
Toxic substances and decaying materials impact the soil and quality of life around a landfill site. When it rains, chemicals leach into the groundwater and surround the area with heavy metals, ammonia, and pathogens. These mixtures can quickly de-oxygenate water and damage aquatic life.
Did you know we can breathe in methane emissions from landfills, farms, and natural gas products or appliances? About 2/3 of landfill waste contains biodegradable organic matter from residential and commercial industries. As it decomposes, it releases methane gas, which traps up to 20 times more heat in the atmosphere and lowers the amount of oxygen we breathe.
Collecting and Treating Landfill Gas (LFG) Emission Landfill methane may contribute to the growing problem of climate change – 12% of the world’s total methane emissions come from landfills.
However, it can be captured, converted, and utilized as a clean, renewable energy resource so it doesn’t cause air pollution. By installing gas collection systems, it is possible to control and reduce methane emissions while minimizing the impact on the climate.
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 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 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 other landfill gases (e.g. carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and oxygen).
Renewable natural gas is a substitute for fossil natural gas and can be used as pipeline-quality gas, liquefied natural 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, electricity generation, or vehicle fuel. 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. You can do so by sorting your waste correctly, composting organic waste materials, and recycling.