Three of the highest methane-emitting landfills located in central Florida
The highest point of Orlandoâ€™s Orange County landfill is 140 feet high. When one stands on top of this mountain of refuse, you look down on the city of Orlando, including its high-rise buildings and the runways of the Orlando International Airport. The cooling towers of Stanton Energy Center â€” which provides power to around 260,000 customers, including 15,000 powered by methane captured from this landfill â€” are also in view.
Methane gas is produced as organic material such as paper, wood, food scraps and rotten food items slowly decomposes on the landfill underneath your feet. Since methane is a potent greenhouse gas, it can contribute to climate warming if it escapes into the atmosphere. However, because methane is highly combustible it is therefore also a potential source of energy, which can be used to power homes, businesses, and vehicles. The Orange County Landfill has put measures in place to capture the methane that is produced as organic waste decomposes under the mounds of soil. An extensive network consisting of more than 500 gas wells capture the methane-rich landfill gas and prevent it from escaping into the atmosphere.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) monitors over 2,600 landfill sites across America. Currently around 500 of these landfills capture methane and convert it to energy. The EPA estimates that 500 additional landfills could feasibly capture and convert methane into energy in a cost-effective manner. Implementing methane capture waste-to-energy projects at these landfills could play and important role in reducing climate change impacts.
Despite efforts by landfill operators across the country, large volumes of methane continue to escape into the atmosphere from landfills annually, making them one of the top three anthropogenic sources of methane. For example, even though Orange County Landfill has measures in place to capture methane produced on the landfill, 32,000 metric tons of methane was released from this site into the atmosphere in 2019, causing it to be the third-largest methane-emitting landfill in the US, according to latest reports.
The Orange County landfill is not the only landfill in Florida that is listed in the top 10 methane emitters; according to EPA records, three other landfills located near Orlando are also included in the top 10. Collectively, the methane emissions produced by these landfills cause as much damage to climate over the short-term as the 1.8 million cars and pickup trucks that drive around the three counties where these landfill sites are located.
However, Orange County community officials, who are proud of the sustainability initiatives they have implemented, are surprised at their high ranking. They believe that the methane capture waste-to-energy system implemented at Orange County landfill plays a key role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. David Gregory, an Orange County official, believes that the problem lies in the equations used for reporting methane emissions to the EPA.
When reporting methane emissions, â€œit's not like we have a measurement,â€ said Gregory in an interview with NPR. "It's all based on the models. And that's where we need to make sure that we're not overlooking anything."
Featured Image by Alan Levine via PxHere