Municipal Solid Waste and Greenhouse Gases

The decomposition of organic waste in landfills produces a gas which is composed primarily of methane, a greenhouse gas contributing to climate change. Landfill gas can be recovered and utilized to generate electricity, fuel industries and heat buildings. There are two major benefits to recovering and utilizing landfill gas. The first is that capturing and combusting landfill gas prevents substances like methane from escaping to the atmosphere; the second is that using the energy from landfill gas can replace the use of non-renewable sources of energy such as coal, oil, or natural gas.

While landfill gas recovery is a method to deal with the organic materials already in landfills, diverting organic materials such as food and yard waste from landfills (using composting or anaerobic digestion) will reduce the production of methane in the first place, and can also generate renewable energy and useful products such as compost.

Below are documents that further illustrate the link between waste management activities and greenhouse gases.

Methane Gas and Landfills

Methane is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide in terms of its global warming potential. 

  • Emissions from Canadian landfills account for 20% of national methane emissions.
  • Canada's Greenhouse Gas Inventory notes that in 2015, approximately 30 Megatonnes (Mt) of carbon dioxide equivalent (eCO2) were generated at Canadian landfills, of which 19 Mt eCO2 were ultimately emitted.
  • Approximately 11 Mt eCO2 generated at landfills were captured - of which 5.4 Mt eCO2 were combusted and 5.6 Mt eCO2 were utilized for various energy purposes.
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