City of
Madison

Methane Gas Emissions

As organic material slowly decomposes in a landfill, it generates methane gas. While methane is captured and used to make electricity at the landfill, over 50% of the methane escapes into the environment. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas - 25 times worse for the environment than the carbon dioxide emissions from cars and coal fired power plants. Organics collection and processing through an anaerobic digester or composter keeps this harmful gas from the atmosphere and actually puts it to good use.

Leachate

Organic materials are high in moisture content. This moisture travels through the landfill picking up chemicals and toxins from the other materials buried there. This harmful stew is called leachate. Landfills have leachate collection systems, but these systems can become clogged by loose trash. The liners of landfills can develop cracks over time and this allows leachate to seep out and penetrate our groundwater.

Avoid Wastefulness

When organic material is placed into a landfill, we waste a valuable resource. Organic material like food scraps is rich with nutrients. Both composting and anaerobic digestion creates compost that contains the valuable nutrients that were present in the organic material. When farmers and backyard gardeners use that compost, they are returning those nutrients to the soil to be utilized.

Organic material can also bea renewable energy source. As discussed earlier, when this material decomposes in an oxygen free environment (like in a pile at a landfill) it creates methane.  At an anaerbic digester, they can capture this methane to produce electricity.  Digesters can also produce heat for buildings, and the captured methane even be processed further into compressed natural gas (CNG), which could be used to fuel vehicles - including collection trucks.  At a composter, methane should not develop if the material is handled appropriately and kept well aerated.

In short, instead of taking organic material that we no longer want or need and burying it in a landfill, we can take it, process it, and produce valuable renewable resources immediately. Rather than asking why we do this, perhaps a better question would be to ask why we haven't been doing this all along.