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Solving Waste Together Landfills

The material we manage—across our recycling facilities, organics processing operations and landfills—is a function of what, and how much, people and businesses throw away.

We have observed significant changes in municipal solid waste (MSW) streams over the years, including some encouraging findings. For example, between 1990 and 2017, the amount of MSW to landfills has decreased even as the U.S. population has grown. Nevertheless, large volumes of material that could be recycled or composted are still being sent to landfills. And even as we are managing more waste today than we were 10 years ago, our emissions per ton have declined.

As North America’s leading environmental services provider, Waste Management is committed to ensuring that all discarded material is handled in the most environmentally beneficial way, which comes down to changing the behavior of industries and individuals alike. We are making progress by working across our supply chain to help develop new technologies and markets for post-consumer materials and educating consumers on how best to dispose of all forms of waste.

Given currently available technology, there remain many waste streams that cannot be successfully or profitably processed into new materials. To ensure that these forms of waste do not enter natural land areas or waterways, where they can cause harm as they degrade, we manage them safely and sustainably through our network of 244 active MSW landfill sites across the U.S. and Canada. Combined, these sites process over 100 million tons of waste annually.

The Making of a Modern Landfill

The scene you might picture when you hear the word “landfill” is a thing of the past. Today’s landfills are sophisticated, engineered structures that contribute to environmental safety and sustainability. Beyond being safe places to store waste, they are often sources of renewable energy and frequently serve new purposes after closure. Landfills are filled over many decades and are monitored for decades after closure. Therefore, Waste Management takes a long-term view of these sites, ensuring that we mitigate potential impacts and keep communities safe and secure for generations to come.

Thousands of pumps, valves, blowers and flares are required for the safe management of modern landfills. Ongoing collection of data from these assets, often collected by checking meters positioned throughout landfill sites, is essential for landfills’ safe operation.

A new system known as Connected Landfills simplifies this work, equipping landfill assets with internet-connected devices and sensors. Technicians are able to review data remotely via dashboards on mobile devices, allowing them to monitor changes, make decisions and even directly interact with equipment with the push of a button. With less time spent in transit, landfill employees will be able to spend more time managing landfills’ productivity and health. Based on its success, we plan to expand our use of this technology to other sites. Learn more about how Waste Management operates landfills safely and sustainably and helps grow our industry’s base of knowledge on this topic.

Renewable Energy Generation: Capturing the Value of Waste

At 124 of our landfills, Waste Management creates economic and environmental value from waste by turning landfill gas into energy. As organic material decomposes in an anaerobic environment, it naturally produces landfill gas, which is roughly half carbon dioxide and half methane. We capture this methane and use it beneficially as an alternative to fossil fuel. This landfill gas, or biogas, is recognized by the U.S. EPA as a renewable energy resource.

In 2019, approximately 55% of biogas collected at Waste Management-owned and -operated facilities went to beneficial use projects. Waste Management is the largest developer and operator in North America.

We are continually looking for opportunities to develop new beneficial use projects. Proximity and accessibility to energy infrastructure makes projects more cost effective. While larger landfills tend to have greater potential, smaller landfills can also support beneficial use projects.

Innovation That Closes the Loop

Hover over each number to reveal more information

1 Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) collection trucks pick up waste at homes and businesses. The waste is transported to landfills for permanent disposal.

2 Much of landfill waste is organic, including food and paper. Bacteria digest this material, producing methane and carbon dioxide as natural byproducts.

3 Methane is recovered by a series of wells drilled into the landfill. The wells are interconnected to form a collection system.

4 The gas is routed to the RNG facility for advanced processing. Carbon dioxide, nitrogen and oxygen are removed from the gas to produce high-purity methane that meets natural gas pipeline specifications.

5 RNG facilities fuel Waste Management CNG collection trucks, reducing GHG emissions by more than 80% compared to those powered by diesel.

Renewable Electricity

Today, our most frequent application for biogas is to generate electricity that is sold to public utilities, municipal utilities and power cooperatives.

In this arrangement, the amount of renewable electricity delivered into the grid by one user must equal the amount of renewable electricity taken off the same grid by another user. This process has been used to offset traditional electricity with renewable energy for decades.

Renewable Fuel

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 commercial vehicles, including our own. Renewable natural gas (RNG) produced from processed landfill gas now fuels over 40% of our natural gas trucks. Learn more about how we focus on sustainability within our fleet.

Waste Management is both a producer and end-user of renewable natural gas. With cleanup to remove water, carbon dioxide (CO2) and other trace elements, the landfill gas can be converted into RNG, a pipeline-quality gas that is fully interchangeable with conventional natural gas. As with electricity, the gas input and outflow must be on the same gas pipeline system, so it is carefully recorded for accuracy.

Our newest and most advanced RNG facility is located at our Skyline Landfill in Ferris, Texas. It began injecting pipeline-quality gas into the Atmos Energy system in early 2020.

Waste Management Landfill Gas Beneficial Use Projects
Type of Project Projects MW
Renewable Electricity
Type of Project: Power Projects: 92 MW: 538
Type of Project: Off-Site Power Projects: 5 MW: 49
Renewable Fuel
Type of Project: Medium BTU Fuel Projects: 7 MW: 20
Type of Project: Liquid Waste Disposal Projects: 5 MW: 4
Type of Project: Renewable Natural Gas Projects: 15 MW: 66
Type of Project: Total Projects Projects: 124 MW: 677
Totals and Conversions
Total LFG Utilized (MMBtu) 58,060,000
Equivalent Megawatt-Hours/Year 4,360,000
Equivalent No. of Households 440,000
Equivalent Tons of Coal/Year 2,520,000
Indirect CO2e Offset (tons/year) 2,100,000
Map of the United States and Canada showing Waste Management Landfill Gas-To-Energy Projects

Waste Management Landfill
Gas-To-Electricity Projects

  • Power
  • Off-site Power

Providing Long-Term Value

Sooner or later, all landfills reach capacity. But that doesn’t mean they have reached the end of their useful life. After closure, monitoring continues, according to strict standards to ensure their long-term safety. Waste Management can convert land surrounding closed disposal sites into beneficial community assets. We currently lease eight closed landfills for solar energy development, which collectively generate 60 megawatts of power. Our newest installation opened in 2019 at the Cinnaminson Landfill in New Jersey, as part of the U.S. EPA’s Superfund Redevelopment Initiative. Read more about Waste Management’s solar energy applications at closed landfills.

Beyond providing valuable land for renewable energy projects, closed landfills are often converted into recreational spaces such as parks, golf courses and athletic fields, as well as nature preserves and habitat for wildlife. For example, the El Sobrante Landfill in Southern California is being converted to wildlife habitat as portions of the landfill are closed. It is one of 79 Waste Management landfills that host Wildlife Habitat Council (WHC)-certified habitat sites, which together encompass nearly 18,000 acres of land. The restored El Sobrante Landfill and wildlife preserve will eventually span over 1,300 acres of open space for the protection of 31 sensitive plant and animal species. El Sobrante is also located in an important migratory path for birds and other wildlife. Its permanent protected status means it will play a vital role in the local ecosystem well into the future. Read more about Waste Management’s work with WHC and the social and environmental benefits of Waste Management’s nature preserves and wildlife habitat at closed landfills.

Building Value Together
A Collaborative
Solution for
Leachate Treatment

Aerial view of the Waste Management technical site in Sainte-Sophie, in the Lower Laurentians

In the natural world, the outputs of one process are often valuable inputs for another. Guided by this principle, Waste Management Québec and a group of scientific partners (Raméa Phytotechnologies, the Montreal Botanical Garden’s Institut de recherche en biologie végétale and Polytechnique Montréal) are exploring possibilities for leachate water from landfills to be treated by the naturally occurring processing systems found in plants.

Leachate, which is produced when rainwater percolates through decomposing waste, is composed mainly of organic matter. This matter includes nitrogen and minerals that have nutrient value for plants. At Waste Management’s Sainte-Sophie landfill, this water is captured using a collection system and is used to irrigate nearly 160,000 willows that have been planted on closed sections of the site. As willows absorb nutrients, they reduce the volume of leachate that must be treated or discharged, and the nutrients stored in leachate water can increase willow growth as much as twofold. Leachate not absorbed by the willows is captured and collected. Partners are testing eight varieties of willows to determine which types grow best under these conditions.

This growth is important, because the willows themselves are being used as a sustainable building material for walls, anti-noise barriers and chipped wood mulch. Researchers continue to work to better understand the mechanisms by which willows remove contaminants from soil and water. The resulting insights could be applied to the management of leachate at other Waste Management landfills—and create more opportunities for truly circular solutions.

Fatoumata-Binta Ba, intern, Francis Allard, President and Xavier Lachapelle-T., Research and Development Manager at Raméa Phytotechnologies.

Fatoumata-Binta Ba, intern, Francis Allard, President and Xavier Lachapelle-T.,
Research and Development Manager at Raméa Phytotechnologies.

160,000
willows irrigated

Up to 2X
willow growth

Willow products:
walls, anti-noise barriers and
chipped wood mulch

Waste Management Landfill Gas-To-Electricity Projects

Power

Off-site Power