Landfills are responsible for a wide variety of damaging effects on our environment, but did you know that they are actually contributing to global warming?
The world’s landfills are contributing to global warming directly through the emission of greenhouse gases. As waste begins to decompose in landfills, gases such as carbon dioxide and methane are released into our atmosphere. In addition, waste incineration also contributes to global warming.
If there is one thing that humans are good at producing it is waste and the primary way that we dispose of our trash is by piling it up in landfills. These mountainous piles of trash are found all over the world and although they are helpful to society in allowing us to allocate designated areas for our trash, they are actually quite harmful to the environment.
Landfills pose a number of different environmental issues but in recent years, we have been finding that they are major contributors to global warming. Our landfills are linked to global warming in a couple of different ways and we need to think of better ways of treating our planet’s waste if we are going to legitimately take action against climate change.
To help you understand this further, we are going to take a closer look at how landfills contribute to global warming.
After years of working for the Environmental Protection Agency as someone who specializes in greenhouse gas emissions, I have had an extensive amount of experience analyzing the various contributors to climate change. My experience and research have shown me that our planet’s landfills are significant contributors to global warming.
Landfills And Global Warming
For the last 20 years, the topic of global warming has been a focal point of environmental discussion and although there have been many people in denial of this planetary phenomenon, the ability to hide from the truth has reached an end - as the evidence has never been more clear.
The effects of climate change are something that will impact the entire planet and every living inhabitant on it. This fact alone makes global warming the single largest threat that humanity faces, which means that we need to take direct action to prevent the worst of this environmental issue from transpiring.
The major problem with combating global warming is that it is linked to so many different things and that it is going to take the combined efforts of governments, corporations, and everyday citizens to slow down the effects of climate change. The cooperation of so many entities is challenging to say the least, but luckily, thanks to global summits and initiations like the Paris Agreement, there is some hope that humanity will work together to pump the breaks on global warming.
In order for us to legitimately take action on global warming, we have to hit it from all angles. There is no single source that is responsible for this environmental dilemma, which is why we need to swiftly cut ties with the primary culprits of global warming - one of which is our planet’s landfills. Many people are surprised to find out that our landfills are actually contributing to as much as 15% of all greenhouse gas emissions. This figure has nothing to do with the production of the waste that lies in landfills but merely the decomposition of the waste itself. Keep reading to learn more about how landfills contribute to global warming.
When scientists and environmentalists talk about global warming, they seem to always be pointing at greenhouse gases as being the source behind the rise of global temperatures.
The way this works is that greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, water vapor, nitrous oxide, and methane build up in our atmosphere in massive quantities and then trap the sun’s heat, which creates a rise in temperatures around the world. This is leading to a lot of environmental issues such as a rise in global ocean levels through the melting of the polar ice caps, regional droughts, and an increase in natural disasters.
While these greenhouse gases have been prevalent in the environment throughout the Earth’s history, there has been a spike in recent decades, which is causing a lot of the effects of global warming to increase at a much more rapid pace. We now know that this is a direct cause of human activity. While a major aspect of this has to do with global populations rising, it is clear that this is not the only reason behind global warming.
Global warming and its effects are perpetuated by how we live and how we treat our planet. Traditionally, we have always blamed our dependence on oil and fossil fuels as being the sole contributor to global warming, but the truth is that this is not the only reason that this planetary event is unfolding.
Our landfills are responsible for a considerable amount of contribution to the rise in greenhouse gases building up in our atmosphere and through that, they are directly correlated with the effects of global warming. People are often puzzled by this, as landfills do not appear to be doing anything other than lying there. While it is easy to assume that landfills are not causing any contribution to global warming, the truth is that they are responsible for a significant amount of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
As our planet’s waste lies in mountainous piles of trash around the world, it begins to slowly decompose. The manner in which landfills are stored and handled leads to an irregular decomposition which results in the creation and emission of greenhouse gases into our atmosphere.
Landfills produce a wide variety of greenhouse gases. Some of the most common ones that we have noticed include carbon dioxide and water vapor. Carbon dioxide, in particular, is the most prevalent greenhouse gas that humans produce, which is the primary culprit behind global warming. This is the greenhouse gas that governments around the world are trying to slow emissions of through carbon tax initiatives, but it can be quite challenging to tax a landfill - especially if it is managed by the government itself.
With that being said, landfills are responsible for emitting a greenhouse gas that is even more destructive than carbon dioxide - methane. Methane is said to be 25 times more destructive of a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide and studies have found that methane is the primary greenhouse gas that landfills emit.
The majority of the methane in our atmosphere still comes from the agricultural industry and the production of coal. However, given that our landfills are responsible for more than 15% of all greenhouse gas emissions around the planet, we cannot simply brush them under the rug. Waste management systems need to be revamped so that this number can be significantly shrunk. Addressing our landfills’ contribution to global warming has never been more important, as we need to take direct action towards mitigating any/all aspects of climate change in order to reach our planetary goal of net zero emissions by the year 2050.
Trash Burning & Waste Incineration
Many nations around the globe struggle to cope with their own trash and have a lack of protocols in place to treat their waste properly, which results in some countries having to resort to burning their trash to get rid of it.
This is not a major problem in the western world where our waste management systems are much more regulated and sophisticated. However, many developing countries do not have the infrastructure or the resources to dispose of their waste in an environmentally sound way. These countries tend to have landfills that have been overloaded with trash and have been pushed to their limits.
When a country reaches this stage, many people begin burning their trash and even landfills as a way to cope with their waste production. This results in a number of environmental complications including global warming contribution. Environmental organizations have claimed that this method of waste disposal is an incredibly poor practice that results in a substantial amount of greenhouse gas emissions.
With that being said, while developed nations do not practice trash burning in such a primitive fashion, we do utilize our trash as a means to create energy. This is known as waste incineration, which is just a sugar-coated term for trash burning. The United States is one of the leaders around the world in practicing waste incineration.
It is estimated that just under 15% of the waste that goes towards our landfills actually ends up getting burned to create energy. While this is a creative way of producing energy, it is by no means clean energy. The trash that we burn through waste incineration is incredibly toxic, which poses health risks for humans in surrounding areas but it is also very damaging to the environment and is directly correlated with greenhouse gas emissions.
Waste incineration releases greenhouse gases such as methane and carbon dioxide into our atmosphere, which are two of the prime culprits behind global warming. While many organizations justify waste incineration based on its energy production, the truth is that this practice is even more destructive than fossil fuels. The amount of pollution required to produce energy through waste incineration is more than double that of what it is with fossil fuels. All in all, our landfills are contributing to global warming in more ways than one.
About THE AUTHOR
James Parker has a Masters degree in Sustainability with a focus on land management, permaculture and regenerative agriculture. He also has experience managing sustainability projects, and is passionate about conservation and sustainability.Read More About James Parker