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Estimates of solid waste disposal rates and reduction targets for landfill gas emissions

Abstract

Landfill disposal of municipal solid waste represents one of the largest anthropogenic global methane emission sources1, and recent policy approaches have targeted significant reductions of these emissions to combat climate change in the US (ref. 2). The efficacy of active gas collection systems in the US was examined by analysing performance data, including fire occurrence, from more than 850 landfills. A generalized linear model showed that the operating status of a landfill—open and actively receiving waste or closed—was the most significant predictor of collection system performance. Gas collection systems at closed landfills were statistically significantly more efficient (p < 0.001) and on average 17 percentage points more efficient than those at open landfills, but open landfills were found to represent 91% of all landfill methane emissions. These results demonstrate the clear need to target open landfills to achieve significant near-term methane emission reductions. This observation is underscored by landfill disposal rates in the US significantly exceeding previously reported national estimates, with this study reporting 262 million tonnes in the year 2012 compared with 122 million tonnes in 2012 as estimated by the US Environmental Protection Agency3.

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Figure 1: Quantity of municipal solid waste disposed of in US landfills.
Figure 2: Gas collection efficiency and methane content of collected LFG calculated using year 2013 GHG reporting data from US EPA.
Figure 3: Average annual frequency of fire incidents at municipal landfills in the US, years 2004–2010.
Figure 4: The number of landfills with active gas collection that have had one or more reported fire incidents between 2004 and 2010 according to NFIRS data and the inventory of landfills with active gas collection in the year 2010 from the US EPA GHG Reporting Rule data.

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Acknowledgements

This research was financially supported in part by the US EPA’s Office of Research and Development. The manuscript has not been subjected to the Agency’s internal review; therefore, the opinions expressed in this paper are those of the author(s) and do not, necessarily, reflect the official positions and policies of the US EPA. Any mention of products or trade names does not constitute recommendation for use by the US EPA. The data analysis efforts of A. Bigger, M. Falinski, A. Sumner and J. Yap are acknowledged.

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J.T.P. conceived the paper, analysed the data, and wrote the manuscript; T.G.T. and J.B.Z. provided analytical guidance and writing contributions to the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Jon T. Powell.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Powell, J., Townsend, T. & Zimmerman, J. Estimates of solid waste disposal rates and reduction targets for landfill gas emissions. Nature Clim Change 6, 162–165 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2804

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