Solutions: What you can DO
Buy carbon credits and renewable energy certificates from true renewable sources.
Not all renewable energy credit (REC) and carbon offset providers are created equal: Numerous providers carry landfill gas and incineration projects in their energy mix as a way to lower their rates. Fortunately, there are plenty of new wind and solar projects for you to support, free of energy derived from waste. As a consumer or an institution, you can use your money to vote for these projects and to demand renewable energy really means renewable.
Use your purchasing power to choose only REC and carbon offset providers who provide waste-free energy. View our list.
Commit to Zero Waste
Tried and true, reducing waste is still the best decision you can make for the environment and the economy. Landfill leachate, greenhouse gas emissions, dioxins–these can all be minimized or avoided with waste reduction and material reuse. By recycling an additional 5% of our waste in the U.S., the EPA estimates we could save 1.8 billions gallons of gasoline, the equivalent of taking an additional 3.5 million cars off the road every year.
Around the globe, communities large and small are committing to reducing waste and pollution with Zero Waste resolutions. Zero Waste is a philosophy and a design principle for the 21st century. It includes recycling, but goes beyond recycling by taking a whole system approach to the vast flow of resources and waste through human society. Zero Waste maximizes recycling, minimizes waste, reduces consumption and ensures that products are made to be reused, repaired or recycled back into nature or the marketplace.
Keep organics out of the landfill.
With less than 60% of yard waste recycled or composted and only 2% of food waste recovered in the U.S., there is a strong need to invest in organics recovery infrastructure, such as local and regional compost facilities, to capture these valuable resources. In conjunction, there is also a need to develop the end-use markets for compost soil amendments, to create incentives for farmers to apply these products, to include local soil amendments in municipal landscaping contracts and projects, to develop onsite commercial and institutional applications, and to promote compost to local residents.
Governments and large institutions play a crucial role in driving the market demand for high quality soil amendments. By giving preference to local compost soil amendments in landscaping contracts, governments and institutions help establish a secure, high volume end-use market for new compost infrastructure.
Colleges and universities
Adopt a campus landscaping policy that gives preference to local soil amendments. View a draft policy for your campus.
The COOOL 2012 campaign (Compostable Organics Out of Landfills) will contain all the information you need to move toward composting organic discards in your community. Look for the COOOL 2012 campaign from GRRN in mid-2008.
Support renewable energy legislation that recognizes waste as a problem, not as a solution.
With climate change dominating media and legislative attention, anything spun as “green” or “renewable” receives attention and accolades. A slew of national and state legislation in the last four years has classified landfill gas and incineration as sources of renewable energy and provided varying degrees of tax credits or subsidies to the industry.
Help keep waste out of future energy legislation and legislative updates by signing up for action alerts through the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA). Read our statement against waste as a form of renewable energy.
Mandate methane capture and remediation at all active landfills.
In 1996, the EPA mandated gas collection systems at landfills that meet the following criteria: “have a design capacity of at least 2.5 million metric tons and 2.5 million cubic meters; are calculated to emit more than 50 metric tons of non-CH4 organic compounds per year; and received waste on or after November 11, 1987.” The capture of landfill gas for energy generation or flaring reduces threats to environmental and public health, and is mandated as an operational requirement under the same rationale as the existing requirements for liners, leachate treatment, and emission controls. This rule established landfill gas collection as a cost of doing business in the landfill industry, and allows landfills that utilize the methane for heat or energy to sell the power produced and recoup some of the collection costs.
This policy should be expanded to all landfills as a means to protect public health and reduce environmental impacts. Landfills should not be lured into protecting the public health and internalizing the costs of doing business by incentives meant for true sources of renewable energy. “Greenwashing” practices that allow landfill operators to claim renewable energy credits and greenhouse gas reductions are just a phony green front to the full bore wasting taking place across our country.
Oppose bioreactors as an unsafe solution.
Bioreactors are an emerging landfill technology that seeks to accelerate the decomposition of waste by circulating liquid (leachate) and frequently air (oxygen) throughout the landfill. In theory, the forced decomposition produces methane emissions along a shorter time frame, stabilizes the waste, and increases landfill capacity. As most bioreactors attempt to optimize methane production to recover the gas for energy and to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, a bioreactor will thus produce methane much earlier in the landfill’s life and will generate methane at a much higher rate than traditional dry tomb landfills. Estimates of the collection efficiency of landfill gas systems differ widely among experts and models, and due to heterogeneity of the waste mass, there may be no clear model of landfill gas production and capture (see earlier section on landfill gas collection). On top of increased gas generation, several other concerns surround bioreactor technology, most notably the physical instability of the landfill and the instability of and stress upon liner systems meant to prevent leachate seepage, both due to the additional weight and momentum of the increased moisture content. More than a dozen bioreactor landfills currently operate in the U.S. as pilot projects to evaluate the economic, environmental, and engineering feasibility of this technology. Since bioreactors demand higher capital costs and more diligent monitoring, securing renewable energy tax credits will be a huge gain for the industry to defray operating and construction costs. This will also ensure organic materials are buried as mixed waste for decades to come, a wasted opportunity for healthier soils and safer communities.
Oppose state permits for bioreactor pilot projects and oppose bioreactors as a source of renewable energy in state renewable energy standards. Read our statement against bioreactors as a source of renewable energy.