Landfills produce natural gas as part of the process of breaking down the organic material found within the waste. This process is called anaerobic digestion, when the material is starved of oxygen the microbes in the waste break down the organic matter. This results in biogas being produced, this gas can be used as a source of heat or to create electricity. In this article we take a look at how much landfill gas is wasted and if there are ways in which landfills could improve operations to reduce the amount of wasted gas. We also look at how individuals can help reduce the amount of wasted landfill gas by correctly separating their waste.

Is all landfill gas collected?

The simple answer to this question is no, not all of the gas produced by a landfill site is collected and reused. It is estimated by the Environmental Protection Agency that 4%-10% of the gas that a landfill produces is able to escape into the atmosphere and is not collected. This gas has a harmful impact on the environment and contributes to global warming. It is important for landfills to regularly monitor the gas on the surface using a gas detector. This way they can take action to prevent landfill gas escaping into the atmosphere and reduce the amount of wasted gas.

Gas flaring

Gas flaring is the process of burning the gas collected from a landfill site to minimize the environmental impact of the gas. Methane makes up a large proportion of the biogas produced on a landfill site, methane is highly flammable and can result in explosions on landfill sites. This is why it is very important to collect the gas produced even if it isn’t then used as a source of fuel. Gas flaring is performed when landfill sites don’t have enough gas or don’t have the infrastructure in place to reuse this gas for heating or to produce electricity. This gas can be considered as wasted gas. To minimize gas flaring landfill sites need to have the infrastructure in place to effectively collect, upgrade and use biogas and biomethane as part of their plant processes.

When very little biogas is produced it can be hard to justify storage and transporting the gas to be used at alternative facilities. Biogas is typically quite difficult to transport without first  converting it to liquid. This process requires even more investment and equipment which would not be a viable solution for smaller landfills with minimal gas production. When designing landfill sites the amount and usage of biogas should be taken into account to minimize the need to use gas flaring and increase the amount of gas collected and reused.

Landfill waste material

The waste material that makes up a landfill site will determine the amount of gas produced. If the landfill contains more organic and or food waste then it will produce larger quantities of biogas which can then be used for creating fuel. To minimize landfill gas wastage individuals should dispose of their waste by separating out food and other decomposable materials into the correct bin. This will result in less food wastage being sent to landfills that don't have the facility to convert the waste into biogas. Instead the food waste will be sent directly to an anaerobic digestion facility where it can be used to create biogas to heat homes and be used in cars, or converted into electricity. Individuals should check with their local council to find out the best way to dispose of food and other organic waste material in their area.

Landfill leaks

If landfill collection equipment becomes worn or old leaks can occur in the collection pipes which feed into the tank. Leaks can also occur if the landfill is not designed correctly and does not contain the right amount of collection tanks for the level of gas produced. To improve the efficiency and minimize waste, landfill gas monitoring should be conducted regularly using a portable gas detector such as the Biogas 5000. This portable gas detector is able to analyze the atmosphere and identify any methane present within just a few seconds. This makes surveying large areas much quicker and more accurate as regular readings can be taken. As soon as a leak is found action should be taken to resolve the issue and minimize the waste landfill gas.

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