It is an article of faith among environmentalists that recycling is superior to landfills as a way to process municipal waste. But reality does not always conform to articles of faith, especially when it comes to environmentalism. We’ve reported on this before, read “Recycling Myths.”
First of all, contrary to popular belief, there is plenty of available landfill inventory. The US is pouring about 270 million tons per year into landfills, compared to approximately 70 million tons of waste that is being recycled each year. And right now, if every landfill operator in the USA did nothing to increase their landfill capacity, there is enough landfill space to absorb all of America’s garbage for the next 40 years. Many landfill operators have over 200 years of available landfill inventory.
Secondly, landfills are ultra safe. In the 1989 “Resource Conservation and Recovery Act,” standards were set by the Federal Government that virtually preclude contaminants from landfills infiltrating aquifers or otherwise causing pollution. Landfills today have liners of two to four feet of recompacted clay – nearly the density of concrete, on the bottom. Above that they have a 60-100 millimeter geosynthetic liner, a hard and impermeable rubber. Above that there is a one to two foot “drainage layer” which is comprised of pebbles and buried pipes, so any liquid that seeps downwards is immediately collected by the pipes and removed for safe processing. Landfills are no longer sited anywhere near known seismic areas, and in any case are being constantly drained so seepage is impossible.
Here is the clincher – we are on the verge of developing technologies that will process all municipal waste before it needs to go to a landfill, or a recycling company. This is extremely disruptive technology, since it is going to pull the rug out from what has become a multi-billion dollar, taxpayer-funded recycling industry. An example of a company that has already established a pilot plant to extract virtually all valuable materials from unsorted municipal waste is “World Waste Technologies,” based in San Diego, California. There are many other companies hot on the trail.
There are technologies coming soon that will use automated mechanical sorting along with thermal conversion and chemical conversion processes, and they not only will cost-effectively reduce unsorted municipal waste feedstock to valuable fuels, fertilizers, building materials and metal ingots, but these processors will run on the energy extracted from the garbage itself. And unlike today’s conventional (and very expensive) recycling operations, these new technologies emit virtually zero pollution.
So forget about recycling, pour garbage into the far more cost-effective landfills, and give the savings back to the taxpayers. As these new garbage processing technologies come on stream, if we like, we can then mine the garbage feedstocks previously accumulated in the landfills themselves, recycling everything stored in them en-masse.