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In Norway we place plastic over the (food) landfill, gather the methane and use it for electricity production. When there is no more methane the same landfill is used as soil for food production.

The US does the same... sometimes.

Some states(US) cap landfills with large sheets of plastic (the new ones have plastic on the bottom, making a "giant bag") and punch holes for venting methane and other exhaust gasses. They vent because the gas is flammable and having it build up under a sheet of plastic is risky. Landfills catch on fire frequently. [2]

Some sites collect the gas and burn it, but it isn't common.

You can see the venting tubes on this photo of liner repair after lightning strike...[1]



I think (hope) GP means landfills with biological waste only, generating methane in lieu of composting. I wouldn't want to grow food on our mixed use landfills.

California has quite a few composting landfills. So GP is calling for the same technology that's already used in parts of California, perhaps covering more people than the entire population of Norway (5.4 million people)

Map of composting facilities in California: https://www.biocycle.net/2018/03/12/california-composting/

Composting is aerated, generates soil and CO₂, not methane. Anaerobic digestion generates methane and soil, though AFAIK of a lesser quality. Per article, California does have AD facilities, though doesn't mention composting/AD ratio.

We can speculate what punnerud meant, but I would point out that Norway has some kind of a landfill ban. IIUC, they have (almost) no classical mixed-use landfills, and nearly all landfilled organic waste is actually in an anaerobic digestion or composting "facility".

>punch holes for venting methane

Why is parent comment saying Norway captures the methane for electricity generation while you're going we need to vent the methane because it's dangerous.

Same gas. Same landfill setup (by the sounds of it).

...why is the conclusion so different?

Does methane work differently in Norway?

Landfills burn it when they aren't equipped to power a generator with it. This also reduces the greenhouse gas impact, as the combustion byproduct is mostly plain CO2 and water. CO2 is also a greenhouse gas, but not as bad as methane.

Either way, it has to be collected and burned off.

I interned for a landfill gas capture company a long time ago. Apparently it’s quite tough to make payback on the investment.

If value is applied to the degradation and GHG abatement, some groups might find it worthwhile.

In this case it sounds like something that could be subsidized by the government if it provides a net benefit to the general populace (by reducing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere).

Flaring it early would produce most of the GHG reduction benefit. The resulting CO2 has a tiny fraction of the total warming potential of the unburned CH3. For cases where it isn't economical to recover the methane, the public still benefits.

Most of the GHG reduction benefit in terms of the GHG contribution of the methane itself. However, there is also the benefit of the fossil fuel combustion that is displaced if you collect and burn for power. This is exactly the sort of thing that a carbon tax would incentivize if it were at all economically sensible.

So long as there's a positive carbon return on adding the extra infrastructure.

There very well may be, but adding pipes to burn off excess methane is way easier than generating and transporting electricity.

Another argument for a comprehensive GHG emissions tax...

Taxes aren’t the solution to everything. Just causing prices to rise has a lot on unintended consequences. If you raise taxes on a bakery and it has to shut down, you just lost jobs as well as a source of bread, this making bread more expensive which hits hard for those people that now no longer have jobs.

If you eliminated all gasoline cars tomorrow, there isn’t enough infrastructure to support electrics. When cars first came out, you didn’t have to convince people to use them by taxing horses: cars were more efficient than horses.

You don’t have to artificially make something worse to encourage something better. The something better should just naturally be better, making a switch obvious.

If you use energy efficient appliances, you save money on your utilities. Given the same quality, more efficient (and lower cost) is always preferred and a rational actor will choose the lower cost option that solves his need at the level he wants it solved.

That “green” stuff is more expensive is an engineering problem. If someone develops an electric car that costs the same or less than an ICE car and has the same or better performance and quality, people will naturally buy them — and the company that can do that stands to win big. But making everything else worse/more expensive to prop up tech that isn’t as good or affordable is trading what’s best for the individual for what’s best for the owners/employees of the less efficient producer.

I am in favor of government funded basic science, research, innovation (it brought us NASA after all,) however I oppose funding that by the selective targeting of industries in order to artificially boost the viability of a new tech. We didn’t have to kill horses to get people into cars. We won’t have to kill ICE cars to get people into better alternatives. We are already producing less CO2 emissions and the relevant tech is already getting cheaper and better. The market is slowly working and it didn’t take a tax to do it. And when it comes to markets, slow is good; it minimizes the negative effects of economic reallocation.

Taxes are a way for the market to price in externalities that aren’t effectively captured otherwise like the climatic impact of GHG emissions. To not capture this amounts to a subsidy paid by non-polluting industries to polluting ones. It corrects an imbalance.

The way carbon tax is implemented in Canada is to return the tax to folks at the end of the year, keeping none of it, but correcting that imbalance.

> If you eliminated all gasoline cars tomorrow...

A carbon tax would not eliminate all petrol cars tomorrow, would it? It would increase the price of fuel, which would encourage some to make their next vehicle an EV in place of ICE. It would inevitably encourage cities and petrol stations to add EV infrastructure too.

Not entirely sure how the US taxes vehicles, but personally I would put some combination of fuel (carbon) tax, increasing monthly well in excess of inflation and a vehicle tax that cost some combination of vehicle weight and emissions. The combination effect of which would be to discourage ICE, pickups and 4x4s whilst encouraging smaller EVs.

Clearly increasing gas taxes doesn't eliminate petrol vehicles, because I've been to Europe (where gas prices are radically higher than the US — +50-100%) and they still have cars there. Yes, the incentives structure means those cars are smaller, lighter, and more efficient — and in many countries, increasingly electric — and that's a good outcome / example of how taxes apply positive pressure.

Can they sell the captured methane in the greenhouse gas markets?

That sounds very efficient. In the US organic and non-organic "kitchen" waste is often combined. While it is becoming more common to separate compostable materials from others it is still more of an exception.

Many landfills do harvest methane from the combined heap of trash. However, after methane production ends we are still left with compost with tons of plastic.

You can think of the plastic as sequestered carbon!

Until it starts burning, or should I say smoldering. Then you can think of it as a multi-ton slow-release toxic gas grenade.

Volatile Organic Compounds. Hey, it says "organic" right in the name. It must be good for the environment.

Sure, if you forget the fact that it used to be much much more "sequestered" before we spent energy extracting those hydrocarbons. Not to mention that the plastic will eventually erode into the oceans since it isn't buried deep enough. Kinda like a time release pill, except for microplastic pollution.

Typical Japanese household trash separation and disposal rules (pdf link): http://www.city.nagoya.jp/en/cmsfiles/contents/0000022/22536...

Compost can be used, plastic can be reused, no?

But when they're mixed together neither can be easily used, and separating them at that point is difficult.

That's a great idea, but also requires an organized garbage collection system where items are separated at the source (consumer). Unfortunately the US doesn't have such a system in place, which is partially a social issue.

It's very common in the bay area to put biodegradable compost (paper towels, food waste, pumpkins, etc.) into the third green bin, along with the yard waste. The other two bins are for recycling and other garbage. It's not very difficult to segregate compostables, and I'm confident the rest of the US will catch up soon.

The UK came up with an even more ridiculous system. Many regions were nicely moving to a system with separated organic waste - kitchen scraps, garden waste and so on, which were composted. Tory party austerity meant many regions have subsequently scrapped, or charge homeowners for the organic waste collection.

Overall result is many homeowners now have a plastic wheelie bin they never use any more, and organic waste goes in the landfill bin. Putting us in a worse place than before we started.

Tory party is busy promoting how environmental they are in their electioneering ...

And a lot of the UK landfill is shipped to Norway (OSLO/Klemetsrud) because we don’t have enough waste to burn. The heat is used to generate electricity and heat most buildings in Oslo, both industry and homes.

(This was new to me until I talked with one of the managers at the plant one year ago)

Yes, same in Portland, OR. In our case we're incentivized by having compost and recycling pick ups weekly, but garbage only every other week. So people who choose not to sort suffer...

We have something similar here -- everyone gets a giant recycling and compost bin, but you pay for the trash bin, and bigger costs more. The problem is that it just leads people to put non recyclable things in the recycling bin. You wind up with a bunch contaminated mixed waste that just gets sent to the landfill anyhow because China won't take this low quality mixed stream anymore.

When you read the rules for what you're allowed to put in that recycling bin, its a tiny fraction of your actual waste. That, combined with the fact that not everyone putting waste from your house into those bins is going to read the rules, is why it all gets contaminated. I keep feeling, more and more, that the whole notion that we can actually reduce "trash" by adding more and more narrowly-defined recycling/composting categories is nothing but a load of BS.

This is what my neighbors in the Bay Area do. They just don’t care. A better solution would be to reduce waste by banning single use plastic, taxing non-organic packaging (more-so than now), and taxing consumer goods on some combination of weight, volume, non-organic content, and toxic content. None of this is particularly popular, especially in certain communities.

Getting rid of single-use plastic would help. However, the "War on Plastic Straws" pisses me off to no end. (Especially since its often done along-side a plethora of needlessly single-use plastic to the point that its just a PR gesture.)

Getting rid of non-organic packaging would help even more. Dealing with packaging materials is one of my biggest frustrations when trying to get rid of boxes. However, this is very much a "long tail" sort of problem.

That's a genius approach, and one that I think would be pretty reasonable to most folks. Fairly often I don't put out the gray trash bin because it's not even half full, and I'm pretty sure I'm not alone.

Oh, and I was there when they made that switch, and you wouldn't believe the complaints people had. Endless litanies about how awful it was that trash was only going out once every two weeks. In time, of course, everyone adapted. But it was pretty amazing at the time, for such a relatively painless change in behavior. You'd think they were being asked to cut off a limb and put it out every week.

It also serves as an incentive, if you have a small yard or even some potted plants, that the city will deliver compost every month for resident to collect.

We have sort at the source in Mountain View, CA and across the Bay Area. I don’t personally care about going into great detail separating minutiae. I have better things to do. Recology (the company that handles waste for much of the Bay Area,) has a billion dollars in revenue and a no-bid contract with San Francisco, let them figure it out. They make a profit that’s twice the industry average and as an ESOP, they avoid most corporate income taxes. The president of Recology even said that competitive bidding would put him out of business. I dutifully put my plastics and cardboard into the correct bin, but I’m not going to go out of my way to help some private company making money hand over fist with a corrupt sweetheart deal with the city: a no-bid, no franchise fee deal with San Francisco in perpetuity. They want the money, they can sort the f!$@ing garbage.


> "I don’t personally care about going into great detail separating minutiae. I have better things to do."

As other comments in this thread have pointed out, people are resistant to "fixing" their waste stream. I think this is a serious lack of personal responsibility. There is nothing about consumption that absolves the consumer of proper disposal. Sure, we want local government to make it as easy and efficient as possible, but best practices are leaning toward sorting, and I think every person has to step up to the practice.

This is a reason to be furious about lack of public oversight over budget, not recycling. Proper recycling still is our (yours too) duty to the planet and it doesn't cost you any money.

> In Norway we place plastic over the (food) landfill, gather the methane

That is also common for US landfills.

How is the land not contaminated with chemicals, poisons, etc? Do they test for all of that?

Landfill gas to power used to be more prevalent, but an AQMD rule change to reduce NOx made them switch to flaring instead because it couldn't compete against subsidized renewables.


I believe it is mandatory to capture it, and either find a use for it (electricity or heat, or both), or you must flare it.

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