City planners in Denton, Texas have developed a next-gen landfill that turns trash into cash…and renewable energy.
Aside from the unnecessary waste of otherwise reusable materials, pollution from landfills can surface in the form of atmospheric and hydrological effects.
One example of the atmospheric concerns that landfills raise is their release of greenhouse gasses like methane. According to EPA, methane from landfills is more efficient that carbon dioxide at trapping heat from the sun– a fact that not only reduces air quality, but also threatens to accelerate climate change.
Landfills also present hydrological concerns by introducing known toxins directly into our groundwater. Dubbed “Toxic Soup”, seepage from landfills has been known to contain heavy metals like lead and cadmium known to cause serious health effects in humans. Because landfills extend underground, they often introduce these toxins directly into our water tables via wells, aquifers, and other water sources.
Denton and the World’s First Eco-friendly Landfill
Denton, a small city in North Texas, is pioneering a progressive solution to our growing landfill problem.
The city has developed the world’s first eco-friendly landfill that leverages unused materials as renewable energy sources before they can present any hazards to human health and our environment.
Denton’s next-gen approach is centered around traditional mining techniques. City Planners hope to create a sustainable waste disposal system and encourage a circular economy by collecting metals, plastics and other goods from landfills that can be resold. Tyler Hurd, the city’s Planning and Public Outreach Manager explains that he and his team aim to make the landfill sustainable “to have as little impact on the environment as possible.”
One way that Denton’s mining method helps minimize the landfill’s environmental consequences is that it actually creates a “perpetual landfill”. Rapidly removing and repurposing materials constantly frees up space in the landfill, effectively eliminating the need to create new landfills or waste disposal sites.
To mitigate the atmospheric and hydrological effects that landfills cause, Hurd’s program uses a technique that simultaneously helps dry out the landfill to prevent topic soup seepage into water sources, and harnesses the methane gas as a power source.
The technique essentially injects a substance called “leachate”, or percolated wastewater into the landfill. The leachate accelerates the decomposition of organic matter, and therefore, the release of methane gas.
Smells like Free Energy
Instead of this greenhouse gas being released freely into our atmosphere, Denton collects and contains the resulting methane for later use. The methane gas is then used to power generators that in turn produce energy for the surrounding community.
This technique allows Denton to repurpose an amount of methane equivalent to the pollution caused by 11,610 passenger vehicles each year.
The Denton perpetual landfill project is busy procuring more equipment with the hopes of providing even more homes with energy in the near future. In the meantime, the extremely efficient and effective waste management example that the small city provides would be easy and profitable for other cities worldwide to follow.
In the US alone, the EPA estimates that as much as 20 percent of greenhouse gasses come from landfills and waste management sites. With energy security becoming a major national concern, the Denton’s project repurposing of methane as an energy source offers a perpetual solution that’s hidden right under our nose.