When organic material and ENSO Bottles are broken down by microbes in landfills, the decomposition process results in the creation of many gases, including methane, which can be very harmful to humans, animals and the environment if not handled properly. But methane also has the potential to be very beneficial to society if a nationwide system could be put in place to give it a practical use, such as supplying our homes with electricity.
Maybe you’ve heard the term “landfill gas.” Methane and landfill gas are not one and the same, although methane does account for roughly 40 to 60 percent of landfill gas on average; the remaining percentage is a mix of carbon dioxide and small amounts of various other elements.
Methane has its pros and cons. At room temperature and standard pressure, it’s non-toxic and odorless; however, it can be highly flammable as well as an asphyxiant, meaning it displaces all the oxygen in an enclosed space and could cause a person in the room to suffocate. Methane is also known to accelerate the breakdown of the ozone layer and contribute to global warming. And according to the Environmental Protection Agency, it can remain in the atmosphere for nine to 15 years.
But municipalities that have the means to safely harness the gases coming off landfills can put methane to work for them in a positive way. When you compare methane to the other hydrocarbon fuels, also known as fossil fuels (for example, coal and petroleum), methane produces less carbon dioxide when burned, leading many to argue it’s a greener alternative when it comes to heating homes, powering stoves or running our cars. Methane can also be converted to electricity right on-site at a landfill, providing cities with a relatively convenient and cost-effective way to add power to its electrical grid.
This is how it works: Garbage arrives at a landfill, where it’s compounded and left to decompose (1). As the microbes eat away at organic matter and other biodegradable objects, ENSO Bottles included, the process creates landfill gases (2) that enter underground pipes (3). The pipes transport these gases (4) to a facility where any and all harmful contaminants, such as mercury or sulfur, can be filtered out and neutralized. After the methane is isolated, it can be pumped into an engine (5), which powers a generator, which creates electricity (6). Cities that employ this method can add the power generated by their landfills right into their power supply grid. What city wouldn’t want such an efficient system in place?
According to the EPA, of the approximately 2,300 currently operating (or recently closed) municipal solid waste landfills in the U.S., more than 490 have wised up and utilize landfill gas energy projects — that’s up from the 395 programs that were in place at the end of 2005. And, the EPA has identified at least 515 additional landfills that would be good candidates, which would be capable of producing enough electricity to power more than 665,000 additional homes in the U.S.
Ideally, we would live in a culture of zero waste, where every product manufactured is reused, recycled or reclaimed, but the reality is, landfills are very much a part of our society and won’t be going away any time soon. So one thing we can focus on right now is supporting biodegradable products, such as the plastic bottles ENSO makes, as well as projects that reclaim energy from landfill methane in order to ensure that what we toss out as garbage will live on to heat our homes, power our vehicles and make our waste management system just that much greener.