Organic Waste Diversion: No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

should organic waste really go to the landfill?

We’ve looked at numerous efforts to keep food and other organic materials out of landfills through composting and/or anaerobic digestion. Lots of good things to say about such efforts – which, generally, we still support – but Waste360 published an article yesterday on some of the downsides of organic waste diversion. Among them:

They undermine landfill gas reclamation efforts: Many landfills now capture methane emissions and convert them into gas that can be used as an energy source. According to Waste360’s Rachel Zimlich, experts are taking note of flattening growth in landfill gas emissions. This can result from the lower amount of organics heading for landfills, and the loss of moisture from food scraps (which slows down decomposition). That means the investments made in such infrastructure may not recoup their costs, and that landfill owners may not be able to fulfill contracts for the gas.

The gas that is being produced may need further purification, as landfills might see greater concentrations of toxins in the gas they are recovering.

They increase costs for trash removal andΒ biogas: Of course, less methane being created is a good thing, right? Yes, if that’s what’s happening – and a well-run composting operation, for instance, will lower or eliminate the methane generated. If the wastes in question are going to anaerobic digesters, that gas is still being produced… and, because of the amount of control that exists over the process, at a higher level of quality. This results in a higher cost for the process, though. The loss of revenue for landfills, and/or the higher cost of anaerobic digestion, may mean higher fees for consumers… who may just start throwing that food and yard waste back in the trash.

Keeping methane out of the atmosphere has to be priority number one for these efforts, and it seems to me that all attempts to deal with organic waste do that pretty well. So, then, economics comes into play… and while most of us know that dealing with these wastes responsibly is the right thing, the market needs to reflect that.

Is continuing to send organics to the landfill the preferable alternative? I don’t know… it certainly seems counter-intuitive. But if a landfill has a working landfill gas system in place, that may just be the way to go. I’d love to hear from those of you who know much more about this than I do…

Photo credit: Shutterstock

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