Extracting resources from under the ground is an expensive and environmentally harmful thing to do. It’s also political challenging in many places to open (or expand) new mining operations, the recent court ruling in Panama demonstrates this. For decades we’ve been tossing perfectly good metals into landfills, so why not mine landfills? In some parts of the world it is economically feasible to so, but in the USA subsidized fossil fuels make the business case to mine landfills more difficult. Still, it’s only a matter of time until landfill mining becomes profitable in North America.
This story showcases one of the issues facing landfill mining in the United States. In Europe, where they view landfills more negatively, they’ve been mining old landfill sites for decades. So why isn’t it more popular here? In simple terms, we have a separate set of motivations. Energy costs are still comparatively low because of the availability of fossil fuels and natural gas, so we don’t value the energy potential of waste buried in landfills. There is not a strong appetite for energy from waste in many locations that could benefit from the energy value of buried plastics and undegraded organic material. Landfill mining is expensive relative to the cost of developing a new landfill site or just transporting waste to a regional disposal facility in someone else’s backyard. The costs for excavation, physical screening, and managing odors and liquids can be significant barriers.
The popularity of landfill mining may increase over time, with some shifts in the factors above. In the meantime, we’ll continue to monitor Europe and Asia as they explore cost-effective methods. My 25 years of experience in landfills as a solid waste consulting engineer indicates that landfill mining is an intriguing proposition. But will it become a sizable portion of my practice in the next 15 years? Let’s just say I am not pinching my nose or holding my breath.
Modern capitalism encourages consumption at levels previously unimaginable which has led to an inconvenient byproduct: the globalization of waste. High levels of consumption means more waste in our system, and with the gift-giving holiday next month we’re going to see a lot of wasteful purchases. This year think about what gifts to give that don’t contribute to a landfill, indeed take some time to think about how your local municipality deals with waste created throughout the year. It turns out that in Canada we have a lot to learn form other places.
It’s time to rethink how we approach waste management in Canada beyond just saying reduce, reuse, and recycle.
Hird tells a story about a research project at Queen’s University, run by one of her grad students, Cassandra Kuyvenhoven, who tracked materials put into blue bins at Queen’s to see where they ended up. â€œWhile the system seemed functional and neat on the surface,â€ says Hird, â€œIt certainly wasn’t that behind the scenes.â€ Kuyvenhoven found, for example, that when recyclable Styrofoam left Queen’s it was loaded onto trucks and taken to Toronto, where it was compacted chemically then trucked to Montreal where it was put on ships that took it to China, where it eventually ended up in landfill. â€œWe might as well have landfilled it here,â€ says Hird, â€œand saved the tons of carbon that went into the atmosphere getting it to China.â€
Electronics equipment made its slow way from the university’s loading docks to landfills in India and Mexico.
â€œWhen people think their stuff is being recycled, it clears their conscience, no matter what is actually happening beyond the blue box,â€ says Hird. â€œOur research shows that when their conscience is clear they tend to consume more than ever. Since Canadians started recycling in earnest maybe 30 years ago, consumerism in this country has done nothing but climb.â€
Madison, New York, has a landfill that has been sitting and rotting and essentially not doing anything productive. That’s all about to change. A new pilot test of a Spectro PowerCap Exposed Geomembrane Solar Cover system – a sheet of something close to magic that will convert the mound of trash into a mound of solar power.
The eight-acre demonstration site features a three-ply membrane that serves as both the closure system for the decommissioned landfill and the platform for an integrated 40-kilowatt Uni-Solar thin-film photovoltaic array. The technology was developed as both a long-term and final landfill closure solution. The PV system is expected to offset nearly all of the power requirements of the Madison County ARC Recycling Facility on the site for 20 to 30 years
Read more at Earth Techling.