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Biodegradable products, such as disposable cups and utensils, may be doing more harm than good in landfills, according to researchers from North Carolina State University.
The study, which was published online in Environmental Science & Technology, found that so-called eco-friendly products release a powerful greenhouse gas as they break down.
The problem is attributable to the rate at which biodegradable materials break down, the study found. According to Federal Trade Commission guidelines, products marked as biodegradable should decompose within “a reasonably short period of time” after disposal.
But that rapid deterioration may be environmentally harmful, the researchers found.
Federal regulations do not require landfills that collect methane to install gas collection systems for at least two years after the waste is buried. If materials break down and release methane too quickly, the study said, much of the methane will likely be emitted before the collection technology is installed. This means less potential fuel for energy use and more greenhouse gas emissions.
The researchers found that a slower rate of biodegradation is more environmentally friendly because the majority of the methane production will occur after the methane collection system is in place.
“Methane can be a valuable energy source when captured, but is a potent greenhouse gas when released into the atmosphere,” said Morton Barlaz, co-author of the study and a professor and head of N.C. State’s Department of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering, in a statement. “In other words, biodegradable products are not necessarily more environmentally friendly when disposed of in landfills.”
April 12 — New research out of North Carolina has discovered exactly why landfills produce methane.
North Carolina State University researchers said they have identified a species of microbe — Methanosarcina bakeri — that “appears to be the key” to allow production of the gas.
“Landfills receive a wide variety of solid waste, and that waste generally starts out with a fairly low pH level,” said Francis de los Reyes, an associate professor of civil engineering and co-author of a paper describing the research.
“The low pH level makes it difficult for most methanogens — methane-producing organisms — to survive. We started this project in hopes of better understanding the mechanism that raises the pH level in landfills, fostering the growth of methanogens,” de los Reyes said.
Researches discovered that the microbe M. bakeri survives in at low pH levels, consumes acids and produces methane. This increases pH levels and makes an area “more amenable for other methanogens,” the school said.
Moisture leaching through a landfill then spreads the high pH levels, allowing other parts of the disposal site to continue the process, research shows.
“The research community can use our findings to explore ways of accelerating the methane-generation process,” de los Reyes said, “creating methane more quickly for power generation and making additional room in the landfill for waste disposal.”
The findings are explained in a paper, “Effect of Spatial Differences in Microbial Activity, pH, and Substrate Levels on Methanogenesis Initiation in Refuse,” that´s being published in the April issue of “Allied and Environmental Microbiology.”
The paper was co-authored by Bryan Staley, who is president and CEO of the Environmental Research and Education Foundation, de los Reyes, and Morton Barlaz, a professor and department head of civil, construction and environmental engineering at N.C. State. Research funding was provided by Waste Management Inc. and the foundation. Staley worked on the project while he was a doctoral student at the university.
The California stores are acting as a bellwether for the company´s waste reduction plans, being implemented at all 4,400 U.S. Walmarts, Sam´s Clubs and distribution centers.
“We are proud of the progress we are making toward our zero waste goal, but realize we still have more work to do,” said Bill Simon, president and CEO of Walmart U.S. “We are committed to actively finding and developing solutions that are both good for the environment and good for business. Through this program we are able to provide the raw materials needed to make new products, recycle millions of pounds of commodities and reduce the environmental impact of landfills.”
The company has achieved its diversion goals by recycling cardboard, paper, aluminum, plastic bags, wood pallets, polystyrene apparel. The company also donates excess food to food banks and uses expired food and other organics to create animal feed, energy or compost.
Walmart began implementing and tracking waste reduction efforts in California in 2009. The nationwide program, based on the California model, will include an ongoing review to monitor the program´s success.
For more information, click here.
Warren Buffett likes trash.
The well-known investor, whose every financial move is watched closely by Wall Street, has substantially increased his investment in Republic Services Inc., the nation´s No. 2 solid waste management company.
In a new filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Buffett´s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. says it held 8,290,500 shares of the company´s stock as of the end of 2009.
That compares with 3,625,000 shares at the end of last year´s third quarter.
Buffett joins billionaire buddy Bill Gates with substantial holdings in Republic Services. Gates has been a long-time investor in the company, and Buffett only started buying stock within recent months. Berkshire Hathaway, a publicly traded company, owns stock in about 40 other firms.
Contact Waste & Recycling News senior reporter Jim Johnson at 937-964-1289 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Countywide Recycling and Disposal Facility Site
East Sparta, Ohio
Republic Services of Ohio II LLC, the operator of the Countywide Recycling and Disposal Facility, recently signed a legal agreement with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It is called an Administrative Settlement and Order on Consent and requires the company to conduct a number of activities at the site. The site is a solid waste municipal landfill located at 3619 Gracemont St. S.W. in East Sparta, Ohio. Although air testing has been conducted over the past two years, the order requires Republic to develop an enhanced air monitoring and sampling plan for the landfill under the oversight of EPA.
This program will monitor for selected volatile organic compounds or VOCs. VOCs are chemicals that can evaporate easily and release hazardous vapors into the air. The compounds are common industrial waste and often found in landfills. This expanded air monitoring system will help EPA determine how well the air pollution control methods are working at the site as well as the effectiveness of other cleanup methods being used. It will also help EPA to determine whether people living in the area could potentially be exposed to VOCs in the air. A self-contained mobile laboratory called the Trace Atmospheric Gas Analyzer, or TAGA, bus will also be used to assist with air sampling. (See Page 2.)
In addition to the air-monitoring program, the order requires Republic to conduct the following activities:
- Install more landfill gas extraction wells.
- Install an enhanced temperature monitoring system.
- Develop a comprehensive landfill cover and cap for cells 1 through 6. Cells are portions of the landfill. The cover will more effectively prevent the release of landfill gases, which are the source of odors. It will also reduce the amount of rain, snowmelt, etc. getting into the landfill.
- Stabilize areas of the site by backfilling and grading and installing erosion and storm water controls.
- Take monthly thermal images of the landfill by airplane to record temperature changes.
TAGA Bus assists in air monitoring effort
The TAGA bus is scheduled to arrive to conduct site air sampling on May 28, 2008. The mobile laboratory can do real-time sampling and analysis of outdoor air emissions. The laboratory can detect very low levels of chemicals (in the low parts per billion). The air monitoring and analysis instruments aboard the TAGA bus allow airborne contamination to be identified and tracked. This mobile lab is based in Edison, N.J. The bus travels to sites throughout the eastern United States assisting in conducting both indoor and outdoor air monitoring
Who’s doing what?
EPA’s agreement with Republic calls for the Agency to oversee air monitoring and other work at the landfill aimed at controlling odors and releases of gases that might affect nearby residents. EPA experts from around the country in air and water quality as well as waste disposal are reviewing the Countywide landfill issues. However, EPA is only one of several agencies working to solve problems at the site.
Ohio EPA has issued Director’s Final Findings and Orders relating to the site and the federal EPA agreement is intended to support and work in tandem with Ohio EPA orders already issued. Ohio EPA is responsible for ensuring compliance with the landfill permit and the Stark County Health Department is responsible for annual licensing of the facility.
In addition, the Stark County Health Department has a phone number people can call for odor complaints. (See Page 1.) These complaints are logged, tracked and shared with other agencies, such as the Ohio Department of Health and the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, which have stepped in to study and assess the possible public health threats associated with air quality.
The agreement with Republic requires that work plans to accomplish the various tasks described in the order must be submitted to EPA. These work plans will be reviewed, negotiated and approved by EPA in coordination with Ohio EPA prior to the beginning of field work.
Ohio EPA will continue to oversee day-to-day operations under its state waste facility permit, as well as activities relating to the investigation of the condition of the facility’s landfill liner and the protection of ground water.
Finally, EPA engineers and scientists will continue to assist Ohio EPA with regulatory, compliance and technical issues. ATSDR’s Chicago office, in cooperation with the Ohio Department of Health, will assist in overseeing the design of the enhanced air monitoring system and analyzing the results.
The Countywide Recycling and Disposal Facility is a solid waste municipal landfill owned and operated by Republic Services of Ohio II LLC. The landfill is regulated under the federal Resource Conservation Recovery Act. The facility is permitted and licensed by Ohio EPA. The facility has been in operation since 1991. Republic purchased the site in 1999 and has operated the facility since then.
The landfill was built with systems to protect the environment. These include a specially designed liner system, a leachate collection system, and a landfill gas collection and control system. Leachate is liquid mixed with waste.
It is estimated that the landfill accepted, as one of its waste streams, approximately 600,000 tons of aluminum process waste between 1993 and 2001. The majority of this material is described as “dross” or “salt cake,” a byproduct of the melting of aluminum with a salt product. (Salt is added to aluminum as a cleaning agent in the melting process to prevent contamination of the metal.) When aluminum dross mixes with water-based liquids, it results in a reaction that generates excessive heat.
In July 2001, Republic became aware of elevated temperatures in landfill gas wells located in several cells at the facility.
Beginning in 2004, the city of Canton health department began receiving odor complaints associated with the facility. In November 2004, Republic began installing gas collection and control systems in the western part of the landfill to assist in the elimination of odors. In June 2005, Republic completed construction and began operating a comprehensive gas collection and control system, resulting in better odor controls. Later that year, Republic identified landfill gas wells with higher than expected temperatures.
From January through August 2006, the Canton health department received more than 600 odor complaints. Early in 2006, Republic also observed an unusual increase in leachate outbreaks and landfill settlement. Republic then initiated numerous activities to reduce odors coming from the landfill. These actions included installation of additional wells, upgrading and repairing various parts of the gas collection system, increasing temperature monitoring, installing additional gas flares and discontinuing the recirculation of leachate.
A large area of the landfill experienced substantial and rapid settlement. Republic installed a flexible membrane liner cap over the affected area to collect gases and prevent water from entering the landfill. Republic also discovered changes in the landfill gas composition, including a decrease in methane and an increase in both carbon monoxide and hydrogen.
Because of the increase in odors coming from the landfill, Ohio EPA issued a number of notices of violation and Director’s Final Findings and Orders aimed at fixing the problems at the landfill. This February, the director of Ohio EPA requested EPA’s assistance on the site.
The city of Los Angeles will receive more than $500,000 for environmental and community programs and pay “competitive” trash disposal rates under an agreement finalized Friday to reopen the controversial Sunshine Canyon Landfill above Granada Hills.
The agreement also calls on the owner of the dump, Browning-Ferris Industries Inc., to drop a $400-million lawsuit against the city, according to sources and city reports. Continue reading