Getting started with recycling can seem overwhelming to some people, especially if you don’t know where to go. Understanding the differences in recycling centers, landfills, and dumps is an important step in taking care of our environment.
We recommend checking with your local municipal government or commercial waste management company to see if recyclable materials can be picked up from your home. You can also use Earth911.com’s interactive search tool to find your closest recycling facility for specific materials. Give it a try!
These locations act as sorting facilities to separate recyclable and non-recyclable materials. They are the place where all grades of Paper (newspaper, magazines, office paper, etc), Fiber (cardboard and fiberboard), Plastics, Aluminum, and Steel are separated and sorted for their next steps in the recycling process.
Landfills vs Dumps
A dump is an open hole in the ground where trash is buried and where animals often swarm. Dumps offer no environmental protection and are not regulated.
Landfills, on the other hand, are engineered areas where waste is placed into the land, covered, and monitored to prevent contaminating the environment. Landfills usually have liner systems and other safeguards to prevent polluting the groundwater. Municipal Solid Waste landfills receive household waste, non-hazardous sludge, industrial solid waste, and construction and demolition debris.
Landfills are not designed to break down trash, merely to bury it. That’s because they contain minimal amounts of oxygen and moisture, which prevents trash from breaking down rapidly. So landfills are carefully filled, monitored and maintained while they are active and for up to 30 years after they are closed.
Some materials are often banned from disposal in municipal solid waste landfills including common household items such as paints, cleaners, chemicals, motor oil, batteries, and pesticides. Leftover portions of these products are called household hazardous waste. If not handled properly these materials can be dangerous to your health and the environment.
Converting Landfill Gas To Energy
Energy recovery from waste is the conversion of non-recyclable waste materials into useable heat, electricity, or fuel through various processes, including combustion, gasification, pyrolization, anaerobic digestion, and landfill gas (LFG) recovery. This process is often called waste-to-energy.
Landfill gas collection systems are how modern landfills deal with gases created within the waste. The landfill gas that is collected contains approximately 50% methane and is either destroyed by combusting it in a flare or is diverted to an on-site treatment facility for the conversion of this gas to energy. The conversion of landfill gas to energy is an effective means of recycling and reusing this valuable resource. Another benefit of this process is the reduction of raw methane gas escaping into the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas.
Currently there are 86 facilities in the United States for combustion of municipal solid waste, with energy recovery. These facilities are located in 25 states, mainly in the Northeast. No new plants have been built in the US since 1995, but some plants have expanded to handle additional waste and create more energy. The 86 facilities have the capacity to produce 2,720 megawatts of power per year by processing more than 28 million tons of waste per year.