US EPA reports 74% of waste is in landfill gas energy projects

Every day there is a new article referring to the value of landfill gas to energy (LFG Energy) and how it integrates into overall waste management sustainability.  The increase in discussion about how landfills are an integral part of sustainability made me wonder what the real numbers are and if LFG Energy is in fact growing trend.

Well, I just finished going through the entire EPA landfill database and here are the results:

(For clarification: These calculations only include landfills that are currently accepting waste “active landfills” because for sustainability purposes regarding product design, closed landfills would make no difference as they no longer accept waste. I also removed landfills that had been open less than 2 years as landfill gas management would not yet be applicable.)

Number of active landfills in the US:                                            1174

Total US EPA reported waste in place:                                         4,733,180,647 short tons

Number of landfills with current or planned LFG Energy:          435

Total US EPA reported waste in place at LFG Energy sites:     3,488,101,967 short tons

Percentage of waste in place at LFG Energy sites:                      74%

So while only 37% of the landfills are converting the methane to energy, these landfills are much larger and accept much more waste so they have a much higher impact than the landfills not collecting methane and converting it to energy. In short, 74% of our waste placed in active landfills is in landfills that will actively capture the methane and convert it to energy.

In the past 20 years there has been a 430% increase in the number of LFG energy sites. This is an average annual growth rate of 21.5%. Keep in mind this is only the increase in the number of landfills with LFG Energy projects. Because the landfills with energy projects are the larger landfills, the true impact on the waste stream is grossly understated. If the growth numbers were based on the amount of waste being put into LFG energy sites, the numbers would be much higher.

The growth rate of waste going into LFG Energy is much higher than the single digit increases reported in any other waste disposal scenario. Seems that this is more than a trend, it is a change in direction that has been quietly taking place over the past 20 years.  With more of our waste going into LFG energy facilities, sustainability professionals must design products that integrate into the process by biodegrading within the landfill.