Data Summary of Municipal Solid Waste Management Alternatives. Volume 1: Report Text Page: 29 of 216
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developing emissions estimates for this study, the emissions limits were increased by a factor of
four to provide a better approximation of actual emissions.
Status of the Major Waste Management Options
Open landfills have been used as a waste management method for centuries. Rules and
regulations for construction and operation of solid waste landfills were established by the
Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) of 1976 as a way to reduce the number of
open dumps common at the time. Since then, landfill requirements have become more stringent.
Careful enclosure of MSW, by providing liners underneath it, covering the landfill with dirt
("daily cover") at the end of each day, installing gas collection systems, and capping the landfill
when it is filled, permits the collection of between 30% and 85% of the methane, carbon dioxide,
and other organic gases generated by the waste. Those gases can be burned for energy recovery
if the quantity generated is large enough to justify the expense of the equipment. More than 100
landfills recover landfill gas for energy. The majority produce electricity, but in a few locations,
the gas is used for process heat, or it is upgraded to pipeline quality and sold.
Although only about 160 of the nation's approximately 6,000 operating landfills are
operating or plan to operate landfill gas-to-energy plants, the energy and emissions data in this
report are based on landfill with gas recovery. The largest landfills (about 200 have a capacity of
more than 1,000 tons per day) are more likely to include the energy recovery facilities, and those
landfills now receive more than 40% of all MSW landfilled in the United States. In comparison
with facilities that either collect landfill gas and flare it or allow the gas to escape into the
atmosphere, landfill gas-to-energy operations reduce environmental releases of methane while
providing an energy benefit.
Most landfills reach capacity because they fill up or reach practical height limits, rather than
by reaching a weight limit. Therefore, efforts to reduce the amount of space that MSW occupies
can extend the life of a landfill. Combustion and recycling programs can help to reduce waste
volume. Other options include:
1. Shredding or compressing MSW in bales-These processes can significantly
increase the density of the MSW. Both approaches are practiced at a few
locations in the United States.
2. Stimulating the decomposition of waste-In research programs at a number of
U.S. sites, leachate is being recirculated and appropriate nutrients are being
added to speed the rate of decomposition. More rapid decomposition gener-
ates larger quantities of recoverable gas (up to double normal production)
within a shorter time period, reduces the amount of leachate that must be col-
lected and treated, and permits the closed landfill to be returned to unrestricted
use sooner or "mined" for reuse, as discussed below. Research on this
approach is being conducted at a number of U.S. sites.
3. "Mining" old landfills-Old landfills, particularly those that have been infil-
trated by large amounts of rain or need to be remediated to prevent ground-
water contamination, can be dug up and processed to separate the dirt and
compost fraction for use as compost or landfill cover. The resulting reduction
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SRI International. Data Summary of Municipal Solid Waste Management Alternatives. Volume 1: Report Text, report, October 1992; Golden, Colorado. (https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc1310776/m1/29/: accessed May 23, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, https://digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.