Waste-Based Energy

While diversion of waste to recycling and other forms of reuse are central to our environmental strategy, it is clear that not all materials can be successfully processed in this manner. Yet even as waste reaches the landfill there remains a meaningful opportunity to recapture value. There, as organic material decomposes in an anaerobic environment, it naturally produces methane, a major component in natural gas fuel and also a potent GHG.

At our landfill gas-to-energy (LFGTE) facilities, we capture this methane and use it beneficially as an alternative to fossil fuel. We harness this energy to power homes and provide fuel for industrial uses and commercial vehicles, including our own. The U.S. EPA endorses landfill gas as a renewable energy resource, putting it in the same category as wind, solar and geothermal resources. Since 2007 our fleet of LFGTE facilities has expanded by more than 25 percent; in 2015 we operated 136 projects of various types that produce energy at 126 landfills. Today Waste Management is the largest LFGTE developer and operator in North America, with projects generating the equivalent of more than 4.6 million megawatt-hours per year, enough to power 470,000 homes and equivalent to replacing the need for burning 2.5 million tons of coal annually.

A Diverse, and Growing, Fleet of Renewable Energy Assets

Our most frequent application for collected landfill gas is to use the processed methane to generate electricity, fueling dedicated generators that produce electricity for sale to public utilities, municipal utilities and power cooperatives. Beyond electricity generation we are also a leader in converting landfill gas into natural gas fuels that are distributed for use in residences, businesses and transportation.

Renewable natural gas produced from processed landfill gas now fuels 40 percent of our natural gas trucks. The Milam Renewable Natural Gas Facility in Fairmont City, Illinois, commissioned in March 2015, is our third landfill gas to natural gas fuel facility (Altamont, California, has been operational since 2009, and American produced renewable electricity via pipeline gas before it began offsetting vehicle fuel with renewable natural gas fuel in 2015). Milam features some of our most advanced capabilities to close the loop and create a truly circular economic use of this resource. We invested $19 million in this facility, which processes the raw landfill gas by removing the carbon dioxide, nitrogen and oxygen to produce high-purity methane that meets natural gas pipeline specifications. The compressors, dehydrators and other equipment necessary to process the landfill gas were powered by electricity from on-site landfill gas-fired generators. This equipment was converted to run on natural gas in May 2016 to make more landfill gas available to the processing plant to produce renewable natural gas. The renewable gas is then compressed and injected into an adjacent natural gas pipeline, operated by Ameren Illinois, a local utility that provides electricity and gas delivery. The renewable fuel production is used to offset natural gas consumed by approximately 200 Waste Management CNG collection trucks operating at this site.

The Milam Process:
Innovation That Closes the Circle

See full infographic

Landfill Gas Beneficial Use Projects

Type of Project Projects Megawatts
Electrical Power 103 540
Pipeline to Off-Site Power 5 67
Pipeline to Medium BTU Fuel 11 33
Liquid Waste Disposal 5 4
High BTU Natural Gas Production 11 38
Vehicle Fuel Projects at
WM Landfills
3 3
Total Projects 136 684

Expanding Our Commitment to Solar

The large geographic footprint of landfills and their proximity to existing infrastructure can make them ideal locations for large-scale solar installations. We continue to increase our commitment to solar generation, a strategy that is aligned with U.S. EPA’s RE-Powering America’s Land initiative. First launched in 2008, this innovative federal program has resulted in nearly 180 new installations that have been installed on contaminated lands, landfills and mine sites, with a cumulative installed capacity of just over 1,124 megawatts nationwide.

In New Jersey we have partnered with Public Service Electric and Gas Company (PSE&G) to bring online the L&D Landfill Solar Farm, which was completed and interconnected to the grid in 2015. With some 41,720 solar panels covering 53 acres of landfill space spanning the towns of Easthampton, Lumberton and Mount Holly, New Jersey, it is one of the largest landfill solar farms in the United States. The 12.93 megawatt facility generates enough electricity to power 2,000 average-size homes. We built upon our experience with this New Jersey initiative and we undertook new solar generation projects at four closed landfills in Massachusetts. This effort, in collaboration with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and Citizens Energy Corporation, has resulted in an additional 17 megawatts (DC) of clean, renewable solar power. Our goal for end of 2016 is generation of 40 megawatts of power from our solar fleet on closed facilities. For more information on our solar projects, please see our Energy & GHG Footprint section.