Landfill mining helps reduce the amount of waste that currently rests in landfills. As long as the landfill is free from toxic waste, an existing landfill can be mined. Over sixty-five percent of the material in a landfill is usable soil that can be mined. Also, smaller percentages of other materials, such as glass, rock, metal, and others may be mined from such landfills.
Another option is to capture the methane gas that is produced during decomposition. This gas can then be converted into electricity.
The most obvious alternatives to landfill are recycling and reuse of materials, but, unfortunately, not everything can be taken care of in this way. After this, there is some debate about the eco-friendliness of other techniques. Incineration is a popular alternative, and has some advantages: large reduction in the physical size of waste, requires less transportation, destroys leachates and gas that would come about in a landfill, reduced pests, and can be used to recover some of the energy used in the process. There are a number of disadvantages to incineration as well. The fact of the matter is that there are not many good alternatives to landfills at this point, which is why they are still so widely used.
So much of our garbage is food waste which can be composted and put back into the earth as soil. More composting facilities, whether the yard or for the city, will reduce the volume in landfills.
One of the most widely overlooked alternatives to landfilling, and sadly among the most maligned my misinformed and otherwise well-intentioned environmentalists, is waste-to-energy, or combustion of solid waste with energy recovery. The process offers numerous advantages over simply burying the waste such as conserving landfill space by reducing the volume that must ultimately be buried by 90%, burning off scraps of organic material clinging to pieces of metal that can then be recovered using magnets and eddy current separators (and which would otherwise be lost forever in landfills), and of course, providing a steady, reliable source of mostly renewable energy that can directly displace dirty or potentially dangerous energy sources such as coal and nuclear power. Interestingly, garbage could be considered THE most renewable source of energy, since it occurs on a renewing or replenishing basis, whereas present definitions of renewable energy seem to have shifted to “must be carbon neutral.” However, waste to energy meets the “carbon neutral” definition of “renewable” because it saves carbon emissions by preventing generation of landfill methane and saving energy needed to mine new metals by allowing them to be recycled when they otherwise would have to be discarded.
It is also worth noting that the countries with the highest utilization of waste-to-energy also typically have some of the highest recycling rates in the world, e.g. The Netherlands, Denmark, Japan, Germany, etc., so it is not at all incompatible with other ways of recovering value from discarded materials such as recycling and composting (again, contrary to the views of many environmental groups).
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