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San Juan Capistrano, CA – March 10: Dirt is blown and spread across a mountain before being covered with dirt at the Prima Deshecha landfill in San Juan Capistrano on Thursday, March 10, 2022. (Photo by Mark Rightmire/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images)
How Is Methane Produced In Landfills
A leading source of U.S. air pollution could be covered by more gas collection systems and by monitoring emissions, environmental advocates say.
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Methane emissions from waste — one of the largest sources of US greenhouse gas emissions — can be reduced through stricter regulations and better emissions monitoring, according to a new report by the Environmental Integrity Project, an environmental organization based in Washington.
The report, published on Thursday, concluded that in order to reduce emissions, the US Environmental Protection Agency needs more gas-collection systems in landfills, monitoring and proper distribution of emissions, and encouraging more computing, recycling and waste reduction. and customers.
Municipal landfills, solid waste sites that receive household waste, are one of the largest sources of methane emissions in the United States, accounting for 14 percent of all methane emissions, according to the EPA’s annual greenhouse gas inventory.
Methane, produced from the decomposition of waste, is a powerful greenhouse gas, 80 times more effective at global warming than carbon dioxide in 20 years.
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Methane’s short atmospheric lifetime—methane remains in the atmosphere for more than a decade, while CO2 persists for centuries—means that drastic reductions in methane emissions could have an immediate impact on halting climate change.
In 2021, US landfills will emit 3.7 million metric tons of methane. This is equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas emissions of 66 million gas powered vehicles or 79 coal fired electric vehicles, the EPA’s greenhouse gas equivalency calculator shows.
“Landfills are a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions,” said Leah Kelly, an attorney with the Environmental Integrity Project and author of the report. “The EPA needs to update their emissions regulations so they can further reduce pollution from landfills.”
The report says some states — including California and Oregon — require the installation of gas-collection systems in more landfills than required under federal law. Among the 10 states with the highest methane emissions from waste, California, the most populous US state, has the highest proportion of landfills and gas collection systems and the lowest level of methane emissions, according to the report.
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The report said that the current methods used by the EPA to estimate methane emissions may “underestimate” the actual emissions.
A report by the National Academy of Sciences published in 2018 reached a similar conclusion, placing “unreliability” in the EPA’s estimates of methane emissions. The report concluded that the agency’s method for estimating methane emissions from landfills is “out of date” and “has never been validated.”
Current emissions estimates are based largely on the amount of waste stored at landfills but “top down” measurements of methane emissions from aircraft have shown actual emissions to be much higher than “bottom up” estimates in some cases.
“The EPA needs to update their emissions regulations so they can further reduce pollution from landfills.” Leah Kelly
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“Emissions are not related to the amount of waste in the environment,” said Jean Bogner, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and co-author of the National Academy of Sciences report. “A combination of top-down and improved bottom-up strategies is needed.”
On July 29, 2022, the Environmental Integrity Project, along with the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit against the US Environmental Protection Agency.
Administrator Michael Regan for failing to update the agency’s methods for estimating emissions of air pollutants from US pipelines as required by law.
The groups said the EPA had not updated its methods for estimating waste emissions since 1998, even though they knew as early as 2008 that they were relying on flawed methods that often underestimate emissions. The Clean Air Act requires the agency to review its procedures every three years.
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In a consent decree issued in February, the EPA said it would reevaluate its methods for estimating emissions.
A report by the Environmental Integrity Project found that more than half of U.S. landfills are in communities with more people of color or less income than the national average.
In Uniontown, Alabama, a community that is 98 percent Black and 64 percent below the poverty line, residents complain of “odors, nausea, headaches, and other ailments” from a landfill that receives 93 percent of the country’s waste, according to the report. to the report.
The report also noted that one of the top methane emitters in Maryland is an urban area in Baltimore near the Curtis Bay and Brooklyn neighborhoods, neighborhoods that are 60 percent black or non-Hispanic.
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The largest landfill in the country in 2021 was Sampson County Disposal, a private facility in Roseboro, North Carolina, according to EPA data cited in the report. Waste collectors previously told Inside Climate News that they have taken steps to reduce emissions and that they felt the models used by the EPA to estimate emissions were wrong.
Florida is the only state that has three landfills among the top 10 emitters: in Brevard County, West Palm Beach and Polk County. Brevard and Polk counties are both in central Florida, and West Palm Beach is in southeast Florida. But the total amount of the state (239, 792 metric tons) was the third behind Texas (389, 437 metric tons) and California (260, 214 metric tons).
Ohio had two landfills among the top 10: in Dover and Amsterdam, both in eastern Ohio. The release of the country (188, 032 metric tons) was the fifth behind Georgia (188, 349 metric tons). Illinois (111, 627 metric tons) came in ninth, according to the report.
Another reason for the release of Florida is its population. The state is the third most populous after California and Texas. One is the climate, said Jeff Chanton, a professor at Florida State University’s Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences. The climate of the rainy season contributes to the extensive decomposition and production of methane at its disposal sites.
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“If we can control CO2 from power plants, why not control methane as a greenhouse gas. It has a very short life in the atmosphere so we can affect climate change in a short time.” Jeff Chanton
Water can also interfere with gas-gathering systems, if there is so much water that the gas-gathering systems become completely saturated and cannot absorb the gas. Chanton said Florida’s natural gas gathering systems need to be properly maintained, but that’s expensive.
“If we can fix CO2 from power plants, why don’t we make methane as a greenhouse gas,” he said. “It has a very short life in the atmosphere so we can affect climate change in the short term.”
At the West Palm Beach landfill, methane emissions are captured and used to power a biosolids processing plant that treats sludge from six nearby water treatment plants, said Willie Puz, spokesman for Palm Beach County’s Solid Waste Authority. He said the gas gathering facility operates in compliance with Florida Department of Environmental Protection and US Environmental Protection Agency regulations.
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In Brevard County, methane emissions are captured and sent to a facility that converts them into energy, said Tom Mulligan, director of the Solid Waste Management Department. He said the district is expanding the gas collection system and they are considering further expansion, but money is a problem. County officials in Polk did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Kelly, of the Environmental Integrity Project, said it is time for the EPA to follow the lead of California and other states that have passed regulations that require more waste to be put into solid waste collection systems and also reduce the amount of food waste that goes to landfill through composting or other means. standards.
“The EPA needs to start updating its regulations to meet the standards that the state is starting to set,” said Kelly.
This story was produced in partnership with the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a multi-media initiative founded by the Miami Herald, the South Florida Sun Sentinel, The Palm Beach Post, the Orlando Sentinel, WLRN Public Media and the Tampa Bay Times.
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