Methane 101

When I started researching landfill-produced methane, I was overwhelmed with the science of it all. Some easy to digest stats were all I was after, but instead I began to drown in a whole bunch of environmental science. Don’t get me wrong, I loved it and I was happy to submerge myself. This is just another case of a seemingly random, small-corner-of-the-internet nugget of fascination. You think you don’t want to spend a few hours reading articles on aerobic composition, but dear reader, I promise you do!

Some more landfill quick facts will follow in this article. Once we have a base, we can take that and discover more about our local, Dallas-based landfills. I’d like to find out what exactly is in the air where we live.

To begin with here, Landfills are the third largest producers of methane in the US. Sitting only behind big industry (energy production/distro) and agriculture. Fifty percent of the emissions that landfills spew out are methane; the remaining fifty, carbon dioxide. There’s small, trace elements of other gases, but these two are the primary ones and the harmful ones. Carbon emissions are news-worthy of course, and the buzz phrase now is ‘reduce your carbon footprint’. Which is terrific!! Methane, however, is about 26% better at trapping and retaining heat than our buzzy CO2.

The methane production in landfills comes from aforementioned aerobic composition. Fancy term for organic material decomposing while exposed to oxygen. This happens all the time in nature, really. And it’s not as harmful, or as smelly as landfills. An example I found extremely helpful amidst the numbers and science was that of the forest floor. Animal droppings mix with leaves and dropped fruit or felled tree limbs/bark. The forest floor is in constant motion with animal activity and winds rustling things up; the pieces of organic matter are being broken up and shifted constantly. Instead of being mixed with non-organic material like plastics and electronic sand then compacted by trucks only to be dumped on again and again in a fashion too quickly for anything to break down. Landfills aren’t following the natural order of proper breakdown of organic material.

Speaking of organic material; the big concerns for landfills are food waste and yard clippings. These are organic pieces of matter that end up in dumps to decompose improperly but could actually break down properly if given the right environment. Hello, Compost Haste! Virtually 40% of food is wasted. Staggering until you think of all the to-go boxes you’ve had and not finished or all the fruit that’s accidentally gone bad. With our huge portions and huge grocery stores, we have so much food around that it’s no problem to forget some and throw it out. We can always get more. Without the proper environment however, these disregarded organic materials end up in a place where they aren’t able to break down properly, thus causing more harm than just wasted money.

The silver lining in all this is that methane is being monitored and, in many instances, captured and used as energy. It can be used for electricity, heating, natural gas, and even to replace fossil fuels. There are so many more details I need to research, and it would be great to see if many Dallas landfills capturing harmful emissions and use them in a positive way. I’m not sure how much that goes on here, but I intend to find out!

In the meantime, readers: compost, don’t bag your grass clippings, join the cause to end single use-plastics, and carpool! I am here for the research and I will be back with some local news.

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