Americans produce about 4.4 pounds of waste per capita every day, according to the EPA, and not all of that waste can be successfully processed. After recycling, composting and other beneficial use efforts, about 65 percent of that waste — a total of about 164 million tons each year — is disposed in landfills. 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 landfill gas, a mixture of carbon dioxide and methane, a major component in natural gas fuel and a potent GHG. Waste Management is finding opportunities to create economic and environmental value by turning landfill gas into energy — in effect, making sure that trash doesn’t go to waste.
From Trash to Power
As trash decomposes it produces gas, which is roughly half carbon dioxide and half methane. At our landfill gas-to-energy (LFGTE) facilities, we capture this methane and use it beneficially as an alternative to fossil fuel 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.
Today, Waste Management is the largest LFGTE developer and operator in North America, with projects generating the equivalent of nearly 4.5 million megawatt-hours per year, enough energy to power 460,000 homes, or the equivalent of replacing nearly 2.5 million tons of coal annually. In 2017, approximately 55 percent of landfill gas collected at Waste Management-owned and -operated facilities was used for beneficial use projects, and we did not directly incinerate waste for energy recovery.
Waste Management has continued to invest in technologies to maximize the capture of energy from our landfills. In 2017, we commissioned new LFTGE facilities at the Redwood Landfill and Recycling Center in Novato, California, to produce renewable electricity, while we are producing renewable natural gas at our Outer Loop Recycling and Disposal Facility in Louisville, Kentucky.
Waste Management Landfill Gas
Beneficial Use Projects
|Type of Project||Projects||MW|
|Medium BTU Fuel||9||25|
|Liquid Waste Disposal||4||3|
|Renewable Natural Gas||4||36|
|Totals and Conversions|
|Total LFG Utilized (mmbtu)||56,960,000|
|Equivalent No. of Households||460,000|
|Equivalent Tons of Coal/Year||2,480,000|
|Indirect CO2e Offset (tons/Year)||2,400,000|
Renewable Natural Gas Power
Our most frequent application for collected landfill gas is to use the processed methane to generate electricity that is sold 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 (RNG) produced from processed landfill gas now fuels over 33 percent of our natural gas trucks.With RNG infrastructure at Waste Management’s Altamont, California, Milam, Illinois, American Landfill in Ohio and now our Outer Loop landfill in Kentucky, over 33 percent of our natural gas fleet was fueled by RNG by the end of 2017.
Waste-Based Energy Facilities
- Direct Gas
- Power and Direct Gas
- Renewable Natural Gas