There are more than 330 million people living in the U.S. Each day, they collectively throw out enough garbage to fill more than 60,000 garbage trucks.
Of the 292 million tons of municipal waste produced in 2018, only 69 million tons were recycled. A small amount was composted, but unfortunately, most garbage ended up at one of the country’s more than 2,000 landfills.
Landfills are the most common form of waste disposal in the US. They keep garbage out of sight and out of mind for decades. Convenience might be one of the causes of landfills, but the downsides—greenhouse gases, leachate, and other toxins—generated from these facilities have become a serious global health problem.
Experts agree there’s an urgent need to reduce landfill waste. Recycling has helped, but it has run up against limitations. Other landfill solutions are being explored, including landfill finding ways to divert waste from landfills, and these alternatives offer real promise.
Landfill Gases a Top Concern
Modern landfills are, according to the EPA, sophisticated facilities designed to protect us against toxic contaminants. However, these systems do not always operate as intended, especially while the landfill is still being filled.
Each day, landfills produce millions of cubic feet of methane gas, a natural, invisible result of the decomposition of organic materials. In the U.S., landfills are the third-largest contributor to human-related methane emissions. Several months after the waste is disposed, methane-producing bacteria begin to decompose the waste and generate the gas. Production of landfill gases generally peaks in about seven years, but landfills can continue to produce gases for more than 50 years.
Landfill gas contains about 50% methane and 50% carbon dioxide (CO2). While experts have long focused on the climate impacts CO2 emissions, an increased focus on the urgency of climate change has given rise to worries about the effects of methane.
The Effects of Landfill Gas Emissions
Problems result when methane leaks into the air before being captured and used for energy. Methane is a greenhouse gas like CO2, so the escaped methane absorbs the sun’s heat and warms the atmosphere. Compared to CO2’s 100+-year lifespan, methane gas on average remains in the atmosphere for only about 12 years. However, during that time, it traps a lot more radiation (86 times as much if you compare the gases over 20 years). Methane is a significant cause of climate change in the short term, and its impact is only getting stronger—its concentration in the atmosphere rose more in 2020 than has been recorded in any one year since records began in 1983.
Because its global warming potential is concentrated in the near future, focusing on the reduction of methane can have a swift impact on climate change risk.
Diverting Waste from Landfills
A practical, direct approach to reducing the effects of landfills, such as methane, is to reduce the amount of methane-generating materials making their way to landfills in the first place. This means organic materials like food scraps, yard waste, and even paper products.
Past studies suggest up to 40% of all food is wasted in the U.S., so diverting this waste from landfill is a big opportunity to reduce damage to the environment and find better waste management solutions. Up to now, most efforts at keeping these materials out of landfills have concentrated on turning them into compost.
However, new technologies and clean tech innovations have been developed and offer alternative landfill solutions. For example, UBQ Materials’ patented process is designed to turn waste into a renewable thermoplastic resource. Its feedstock includes unsorted household waste, previously destined for landfill. In contrast to conventional recycling, UBQ Materials does not require sorting or source separation. UBQ takes food waste, mixed plastics, cardboard, garden trimmings and more, and converts it into a valuable material that manufacturers can use to replace oil-based plastics. We’re dedicated to helping reduce landfill gas emissions while helping brands reduce their global footprints.
Though we are facing plenty of sustainability challenges, at UBQ, we believe that a world without waste is possible and that innovative landfill solutions like UBQ can play an enormous role in creating a world where people and the planet can prosper. Reach out today to learn more.