America produces millions of tons of garbage daily that goes into landfills. This is becoming a major problem because landfills are filling up faster than we can develop new ones. New York City for example sends most of its 10,000 tons daily output of garbage to Ohio, Delaware, Pennsylvania and North Carolina. There is simply not enough landfill around New York State to meet their needs. Land fills are also a major source of methane gas released into the air. Methane is 35 times more potent as a green house gas than CO2 and is naturally produced as organic garbage decays. Because of the low percentage of methane historically released into the atmosphere it has not been considered a threat to Global Warming. However in recent decades our increased burden on landfills has resulted in dramatic increases in methane gas produced making it now a significant contributor of greenhouse gases.
In the European Union there is an European Landfill Directive that mandates that European Union member states reduce “biodegradable municipal waste” sent to landfills to 35 percent of 1995 quantities by 2016. What they and other countries around the world are doing is using technology to put organic garbage waste such as food and yard trimmings to work in producing methane gas as a source of fuel and solid and liquid waste as fertilizer and other useful products. This technology is called anaerobic digestion. Anaerobic bacteria similar to that existing in the stomachs of cows is mixed with organic garbage to accelerate its decay and production of methane gas which is captured.
This technology consists of digging a huge hole in the ground and lining it with a plastic material that prevents the liquid that collects at the bottom from seeping into the ground water. The plastic coated hole is then filled with organic garbage waste material while anaerobic bacteria is added. When full the hole is covered up with another large plastic sheet and sealed to the bottom sheet. The bacteria goes to work digesting the garbage producing large amounts of methane gas which is collected by a pipe hooked to the top plastic sheet. This methane gas is then filtered to remove impurities and sold as natural gas. When the digestion process is complete the bacteria dies from its own byproducts and the plastic lid is removed and the digested organic material excavated and sold as fertilizer and for other uses. The liquid that accumulates at the bottom is pumped out and also used as fertilizer and for other purposes. The hole in the ground can then be reused over and over again in this manner. Some dairy farms have been using this technology to digest cow dung during the last decade and use the methane to generate electricity in the U.S. but little has been done to take advantage of this technology to reduce landfills here. So Europe is far ahead of us using this technology.
This process completely recycles the organic garbage thus significantly reducing the burden upon landfills as well as producing commercially useful byproducts. Nothing is wasted and two major problems are solved, greenhouse gas emissions and landfill burden. Why isn’t this being more aggressively used throughout the U.S.? Because change is very slow here and conservative congressional leaders feel this is a low priority issue because they don’t even believe in anthropogenic Global Warming.