The average elevation above sea level in Florida is around 6 feet. That means, averaging at 300 feet, the local landfill is likely the highest point around any city in the Sunshine State. You might know landfills as the stinky trash mountains adjacent to the interstate. They are the final destination for the stinky garbage trucks after they've made their rounds picking up your waste bin contents. As you learned from our last blog post, they are also the likely final destination for most of the recycling being collected in 2019. They are an eyesore, and if such a thing exists, a definite nose sore. But what if I told you that landfills are actually doing a lot of good in our communities?
Gas flame torch on a oil refinery plant. Oil industry. Gas refinery.
Deep underneath the surface of a landfill, billions of bacteria are working to break down the organic waste from your trash. Just like in your stomach, the byproduct of breaking down the trash is methane. The more putrescible (stinky, organic matter) waste is deposited, the more methane the landfill will produce. The US is the number one consumer of natural gas in the world but did you know, the active ingredient in natural gas is the very same methane? Many landfills are participating in gas collection programs, gathering the subterranean gas through strong suction pumps. It is scrubbed of Hydrogen Sulfide, the poisonous active ingredient in rotten egg smell, then piped to a power plant running several large turbine engines. The methane powers these engines which in turn produce electricity. In 2013, US landfills produced 10.7 trillion watts of electricity. When people talk about renewable energy, most likely the topic is either wind power or solar power. With over 3,000 active landfills in the US, there is a ton of potential to obtain cleaner burning methane. The landfills already exist and are necessary for our modern society. Why not exploit them as a resource? Next time you feel guilty about tossing out your landfill-destined trash, consider that it may eventually lead to the production of electricity.