Finding Value in Trash: Innovative Technology in the Landfill

Chris Toman

When most people think about finding value in trash, images of recycled plastic bottles and cans probably come to mind. However, a recent trip by an Ecova team to a neighborhood landfill proved that waste has a lot more to offer―even the stuff that can’t be recycled!

Located 20 miles southeast of Seattle, the Cedar Hills Regional Landfill is the final destination for non-recyclable materials in King County, Washington. If you’ve never been to a landfill before, it’s probably not what you’d expect. There was an open pit with bulldozers moving large quantities of waste around, but it was confined to a small portion of the 920 acre landfill. The majority of the space was peaceful, rolling hills where old sections of the landfill had been filled and covered.

But all that tranquility obscures a great deal of potential harm. If a landfill is not properly maintained, toxic chemicals can seep into groundwater or neighboring water supplies. Exposure to hazardous waste from landfills can cause cancer or birth defects. In addition, landfills release a number of harmful greenhouse gases, including methane, into the atmosphere.

Right now, sending certain materials to the landfill is unavoidable, but there are ways to make the best of this situation. When the Ecova team visited the Cedar Hills Regional Landfill, we noticed ubiquitous steel pipes popping out of the soil. In 2009, King County partnered with Bio Energy Washington (BEW) to install a pipeline that captures methane gas from the landfill. The gas is processed and converted to biogas, generating 5.5 million cubic feet of renewable energy per day, as well as helping to save on energy costs―that’s enough to power 24,000 homes!

Converting landfill gas into renewable energy is a sensible policy. It prevents greenhouse gases from being released into the atmosphere and reduces the need for fossil fuels. But before anyone starts patting themselves on the back for throwing things in the trash, consider that composting food wastecan divert up to 50% of waste to landfill and it produces a valuable soil amendment. In fact, landfills remain the least desirable destination for waste.

Our team’s trip to the local landfill highlighted that views on waste are changing―there is a growing awareness that our trash has value. Through new and innovative technologies and proper waste management practices, businesses can reduce the impact on the environment and potentially save costs.

Visit Ecova’s Waste Management solution for additional information and how Ecova can help your company innovate to solve its waste challenges.

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