Much ado about landfills

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Let’s begin with some statistics on landfills, from Trashcans Unlimited. 

Here are the largest landfills in the world (and their location) based on acres:

1. Apex Regional (Las Vegas, United States) – 2,200 Acres
2. Bordo Poniente (Mexico City, Mexico) – 927 Acres
3. Laogang (Shanghai, China) – 830 Acres
4. Malagrotta (Rome, Italy) 680 Acres
5. Puente Hills (Los Angeles, United States) – 630 Acres
6. Sudokwon (Incheon, South Korea) – 570 Acres
7. Delhi Landfills (India) – 500 Acres
8. Deonar (Mumbai, India) – 326 Acres
9. West New Territories (China, Hong Kong) – 272 Acres
10. Xinfeng (Guangzhou, China) – 227 Acres

Landfill Africa

Here are the largest landfills based on tonnes dumped daily annually:

  1. Guatemala City Dump:Guatemala; an open dump that includes medical waste

Tons Per Day: 500; Tons Per Year (In Millions): 0.18

  1. Dandora Dumpsite: Nairobi, Kenya; Hospital, industrial, and agricultural waste

Tons Per Day: 2,000; Tons Per Year (In Millions): 0.75

  1. Guiyu E-waste Dumpsites: Guiyu, China; Electronic waste

Tons Per Day: 4,100; Tons Per Year (In Millions): 1.5

  1. Mumbai Landfill: Mumbai, India; Municipal solid waste

Tons Per Day: About 4,000-7,000; Tons Per Year (In Millions): 2

  1. Malagrotta Landfill: Rome, Italy; Municipal solid waste

Tons Per Day: 4,000; Tons Per Year (In Millions): 2.3

  1. West New Territories Landfill: Hong Kong, China; Municipal solid waste

Tons Per Day: 6,200

  1. Delhi Landfill: Delhi, India; Municipal solid waste

Tons Per Day: 6,000; Tons Per Year (In Millions): 2.2

  1. Sao Joao Landfill: São Paulo, Brazil; Municipal solid waste

Tons Per Day: 7,000; Tons Per Year (In Millions): 2.5

  1. Xingfeng Landfill: Guangzhou, China; Municipal solid waste

Tons Per Day: About 6,000-8,000; Tons Per Year (In Millions): 2.5

  1. Lagos Dumpsites: Lagos, Nigeria; Municipal solid waste

Tons Per Day: 9,000; Tons Per Year (In Millions): 3.3

  1. Laogang Landfill: Laogang, China; Municipal solid waste

Tons Per Day: About 6,000-10,000; Tons Per Year (In Millions): 3

  1. Puente Hills Landfill: Los Angeles, USA; Municipal solid waste

Tons Per Day: 10,300; Tons Per Year (In Millions): 3.6

  1. Sudokwon Landfill: Incheon, South Korea; Municipal solid waste

Tons Per Day: About 20,000; Tons Per Year (In Millions): 6.9

  1. Apex Regional Landfill: Las Vegas, USA; Municipal solid waste

Tons Per Day: 10,500; Tons Per Year (In Millions): 3.8

  1. Bordo Poniente Landfill: Nezahualcoyotl, Mexico; Municipal solid waste

Tons Per Day: 12,000; Tons Per Year (In Millions): 4.4

Interestingly, all these sites are described as having an ‘Involvement in Green Technology’ ie Methane transformation to energy – more on that topic imminently.

Landfills are bad for the environment in at least two ways:
Locally they are a source of leachate: this is a liquid formed when landfill waste breaks down and water filters through the waste – it is very toxic because landfill waste contains a vast quantity of harmful substances. Leachate can pollute waterways, land, and groundwater.

They are a major source of methane because organic waste such as food, garden waste etc goes into landfills; when a landfill is ‘capped’ with a membrane and/or a thin layer of clay, this organic waste enters an anaerobic state and generates methane. A mitigation is to use this methane to generate electricity by gathering it for gas engines – this is the ‘methane transformation to energy’ mentioned above. As an example, the landfill at Bletchley UK was said – early in 2023 – by the operator FCC Environment Ltd to have ~300 gas wells and to generate 8.5MW of electricity, enough to power 7600 homes.

Sounds like a great idea to stop methane from landfills escaping into the atmosphere – only problem is, it is only partly effective.

Globally, how much are we taking about?

Here is Climate Traces’ CH4 from Landfills map for 2022; you can see they count a total of over 53 million tonnes from 10314 sources:

Climate Traces’ CH4 from Landfills map for 2022

If we look at Terrabotic’s display of landfill ‘plumes – remember these are basically ‘spot’ observations of ‘plumes’ that are big enough to be seen by satellites or aircraft – there are nearly 1000 in the data base:

Terrabotic’s display of landfill ‘plumes

Let’s look at one site in particular, the Apex Regional Landfill in Nevada – #1 and #14 in the above lists – as imaged by Carbon Mapper in 2022:

The site is clearly leaking from points around the edges of the ‘capping’ and also through any imperfections in the ‘capping’ such as fissures; in reality the landfill, full of methane, is just a shallow petroleum accumulation – petroleum geoscientists are thoroughly familiar with the concepts of micro-seepage (vertically by diffusion) and macro-seepage (somewhat laterally through faults and fissures).

OK, ‘capped’ landfills leak methane but how much?

Let’s have a look at Spain which shows up with 3 identifiable landfill locations in the earlier Terrabotics image. The best studied site is just outside Madrid, sort of in its suburbs:

Madrid landfill

You can see that 16 ‘spot’ observations have been made, by GHGSat; typical volumes are of several tonnes of methane emissions/hour, 4.3k per hour for one of the ‘plumes’.

But let’s look a little broader and look at Climate Traces’ perspective not only on Spain but also France, Germany, Poland and Slovakia. CH4 from Waste….now including landfills, anaerobic digesters, waste water treatment……

What does this add up to? It’s not Much Ado about Nothing!
  1. CH4 from Waste is a major problem and the EU has a big part of that – perhaps a good idea to get their house in order before regulating other countries?
  2. Continuing to dump non-recyclable waste including food, garden waste etc into landfills and attempting to mitigate the environmental impact by partially combusting the methane is only partly successful.

 

For further information about this blog, or to request an image in high resolution, please contact David Bamford

 

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