How Do Landfills Contribute to Climate Change?

There are thousands of active and sealed landfills in the U.S. alone, and they’re all contributing to global climate change. A rapidly warming earth will (and already is) having dire consequences for every living thing. From devastating droughts and hurricanes to worsening allergies and higher Lyme disease rates, global climate change will eventually affect every major aspect of daily life. Here’s a look at how landfills are making the situation worse, and how responsible waste management practices can help turn things around.

How Landfills Generate Methane

You’ve probably heard of at least one greenhouse gas—carbon dioxide. Methane is even worse, and more than half of all methane produced comes from activities related to humans. Methane is released when energy companies extract fossil fuels from the earth, when cows defecate and pass gas, and when trash decomposes in landfills. During 2010 alone, landfills around the world released almost 880 million metric tons of methane into the atmosphere. The landfills in the U.S. were the biggest culprits.

How Methane Contributes to Climate Change

Although there is more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than methane, methane has a bigger impact. If you compare, pound for pound, the impact of methane versus carbon dioxide, methane in the atmosphere traps 25 times more heat. As Americans continue to throw out increasing amounts of garbage each day, the amount of methane released will continue to climb.

How the Methane Problem Could Be Solved

There is a silver lining, which is that methane has a much shorter “shelf life” in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide (about 12 years versus 100 to 300 years). This means that if humanity took dramatic steps to curb methane emissions, there would be a rapid, positive effect on climate change. But it will require a commitment on behalf of every individual to waste less and recycle more. It would also require tighter industry regulations, and the investment of methane capturing technology installed in more landfills and cattle farms. The captured methane can be burned for energy, which is one effective way of supporting renewable energy sources.

By recycling more waste, Chicago-area residents can help curb the amount of methane produced by landfills. Call (877) 339-4101 to find out about the recycling services available from Brackenbox. Jim Bracken and his team of waste management professionals are committed to promoting responsible stewardship of the environment.


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