Landfills case study: trash isn’t always dirty

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Courtesy of Waste Advantage Magazine

Most of us don’t put a lot of thought into our trash once it leaves our front door; we may give it a cursory glance as it is hauled away never to be seen again. However, what many of us don’t know is that more and more of our trash—or the byproducts of it, at least—are being used in creative ways to power our daily lives. We never counted on it, but the trash is no longer just being taken out: Waste Management is devising the technology to bring it back in.

It seems like an undoubtedly complicated process, but the concept is actually simple. Many landfills accumulate trash, and during its decomposition process, it creates naturally occurring methane gas. This gas, which was previously noticed only for its distinct smell, is now being harvested by landfill operators to create a multitude of substances, including electricity to power our homes and even clean-burning fuel for collection vehicles. One such landfill includes Waste Management’s Simi Valley, CA Landfill and Recycling Center (SVLRC).

Simi Valley, CA
The SVLRC is on the cutting edge of converting municipal solid waste into clean burning energy. Currently, the methane gas harvested from this landfill is burned to produce enough power for an astonishing 2,500 homes. Should their proposed expansion plan proceed, this number will double to 5,000. How is this done, you may ask? The methane gas is filtered through a network of tubing located throughout the landfill, maneuvering the gas to a flare, where the methane is burned and the resulting energy is harvested and used to power homes.

This makes trash something of a gift that keeps on giving, especially because this methane gas is an already existent, inevitable part of the landfill process. One could even say this epitomizes the concept of recycling: what a strange thought to think that the banana peel you threw away last week could be working to enable you to cheaply and greenly turn on your lights, your computer, your radio?

This isn’t the only project in which the SVLRC is involved. Recently, the SVLRC announced its candidacy for another exciting project currently pending approval. This project involves the creation of Bio-Liquefied Natural Gas (or Bio-LNG) to fuel collection vehicles. The creation of Bio-LNG also involves methane gas, but adds an extra step. Instead of simply harvesting the gas in its natural, vaporous form, the gas is instead filtered through a cooling system. The cooling process allows the gas to be compressed in to a liquid form, which can then be used to fuel collection vehicles.

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