November 15, 2022 / by Jaime
  Filed Under: Uncategorized

What are the Alternatives to Landfills?

landfill alternativesLandfills have become a part of our everyday lives. They are where we put our trash and hope it will just disappear. But landfills aren’t magical, so the trash doesn’t disappear. Instead, it seeps into the soil as leachate and eventually finds its way into our water supply. what are alternatives to landfills?

Landfills are also a breeding ground for methane, a greenhouse gas far more potent than carbon dioxide. And the rodents, let’s not forget the rodents.

Clearly, landfills are not the most sustainable solution for our waste. So, what are the alternatives to landfills? Can we do better?

What are some alternatives to landfills? Here are some landfill alternatives that are being used or explored around the world:

Recycling:

We’ve all recycled our waste into useful and fun items. Maybe you transformed your empty food cans into robots or your milk cartons into bird feeders. But on an industrial scale, recycling is a different story.

Recycling facilities sort the waste into different categories based on the type of materials before processing it. The sorted waste is then cleaned and melted down to create new products.

There are some compelling benefits to recycling:

  • It conserves resources: It takes far less energy to recycle than mine and process new aluminum.

  • It reduces pollution: The process emits less pollution than creating new products from scratch. For instance, recycling a ton of glass conserves 9 gallons of oil.

  • It saves land: Every year, recycling and composting save 561 million cubic yards of land from being used as landfills.

We recently published a blog on this subject, please read it!

Composting:

composting

Have you ever made your compost pile? If you have, then you know the basics of industrial composting. Dumping organic waste like leftover food, eggshells, and coffee grounds in a pile lets microorganisms break down the waste into a nutrient-rich soil amendment.

Composting reduces the need for chemical fertilizers. For instance, the calcium carbonate in eggshells can help prevent blossom-end rot in tomatoes without chemical intervention. In addition, it means fewer harmful chemicals in our soil and water.

And like recycling, composting conserves resources and land. Every year, composting saves 213 million cubic yards of land from being used as landfills. Considering the condition of our environment, that’s a huge win. What are some alternatives to landfills?

Pyrolysis:

Pyrolysis is a process that uses heat to break down waste into valuable products like biochar, syngas, and bio-oil.

These products can be used as fuel, fertilizer, or building materials.

Pyrolysis is a promising alternative to landfills because it doesn’t produce methane. However, it also processes a wide range of waste, from plastics to tires.

The main drawback of pyrolysis is that it requires a lot of energy to operate. For instance, a tire-recycling plant can use enough energy to power 3,500 homes.

But as renewable energy becomes cheaper and more accessible, it may no longer be a problem.

What are alternatives to landfills?

Incineration:

We’ve all come across incineration in one form or another. Maybe you burned your trash in a backyard fire pit or saw a power plant burning coal to generate electricity.

The idea is the same: burn waste to generate energy that can power homes and businesses.

Incineration is a controversial alternative to landfills because it produces air pollution and toxic ash. Plus, it doesn’t solve the waste problem because it just turns it into a different form.

That being said, incineration helps generate electricity. And when waste is burned in a modern incinerator, it can produce less pollution than in a coal-fired power plant.

The incineration process also sterilizes waste, which is valuable for the medical industry. It means that incinerators could potentially replace landfills as the main disposal method for hazardous waste.

Anaerobic Digestion:

When bacteria break down organic waste in the absence of oxygen, they create biogas. It is a combination of methane and carbon dioxide. This process is called anaerobic digestion. Although similar to composting in terms of the waste it processes, the differentiating factor is the absence of oxygen.

Anaerobic digestion reduces the volume of waste, produces renewable energy, and doesn’t produce methane.

Since we are invested in saving the environment, a waste management method with these three benefits is worth considering.

Plus, the process can treat a wide range of waste, from manure to food waste. 

What are alternatives to landfills?

In-Vessel Digestion:

Industrial waste management facilities use in-vessel digestion to process food and other organic waste.

The method involves breaking down waste in a sealed chamber, which prevents methane and unpleasant odors from escaping.

Another benefit of in-vessel digestion is that it can generate renewable energy. This energy can serve a multipurpose role, like powering the facility or being sold back to the grid. What are some alternatives to landfills?

The drawback of in-vessel digestion is that it’s a newer technology, so it’s more expensive than other methods. Plus, it requires a lot of space.

Learn more about this, on the EPA website. They explain it very well.

Thermal Desorption:

As mentioned, leachate can be a problem for landfills. It’s the liquid that seeps out of waste and into the ground. If it’s not properly treated, it can pollute water supplies. These are our sources of drinking water, the water we use to irrigate crops, and more.

Thermal desorption can turn this polluting liquid into something useful: water vapor.

The process uses heat to break down the molecules in leachate, which separates the water from the contaminants. The water vapor is then released into the atmosphere, and the contaminants, now solidified, are landfilled.

This method doesn’t completely solve the pollution problem. Still, it does reduce the volume of waste that needs to be dumped in landfills.

Conclusion:

Our environment is constantly changing. Whether in terms of climate change or the increasing amount of waste we produce, we must find ways to adapt.

Landfills have been the go-to method of waste management for years, but they’re becoming increasingly unsustainable. Methane production is one of the main reasons.

As we look for landfill alternatives, we must consider the benefits and drawbacks of each method. While most methods generate renewable energy, they also release methane or other pollutants into the atmosphere.

At an industrial level, in-vessel digestion and thermal desorption seem to be the most promising methods. But more research is needed to find the perfect solution. What are some alternatives to landfills?

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