How Landfills Work

Landfills exist everywhere in the globe and an enormous amount of those landfills capture methane gas. The basic facts of capturing methane gas are drilling holes in the landfill allowing to capture the methane and then converting that methane to energy. Capturing methane to energy reduces the carbon footprint of the landfill and then the county facilities utilize the methane gas for energy. The above YouTube video show how landfills work and capture methane gas and utilize it for energy.

According to the EPA, the average American produces about four (4) pounds of garbage per day. That’s nearly three-quarters of a ton during the course of a year. The trash that doesn’t get composted or recycled, inevitably, ends up in a landfill. The Middlesex County landfill is a seven hundred acre facility that sees more than two hundred and forty (240) trucks drop their loads per day. Eighty percent (80%) of which is household waste.

Brian T. Murray (Superintendent of Operations, Middlesex County Utilities Authority):

“When a truck comes in, it first comes in the facility. It goes to our queuing area, and it’s weighed at the scale facility. After that, depending on where we’re dumping on any given day, it will follow one of the hole roads, up to the actual tipping area. The big misconception about landfills is that it’s an open source of trash. Actually, the tipping area, which is referred to as a work face is about fifteen thousand (15,000) square feet; and at the end of the day, that fact will be covered. We cover that for odors, vectors, fire control, and to keep the litter from blowing around.”

There was a time, more than 40 years ago, when open dumps had very little regulation to protect the environment, but modern landfills have come a long way since then.

Susan Lewicki (Senior Environmental Educator, Meadowlands Environment Center):

“Since the 1970’s, environmental regulations were developed on a state and federal level to control what happens when garbage is dumped.”

The key to that control is the use of a liner system.

Brian T. Murray:

“Basically, this landfill has what they call double composite liner. It means that it has two liners. It has two synthetic liners and two clay liners. So, the idea is, as liquids collect inside the landfill and sail down the bottom, they hit the confining layer of the lining system, and they travel in the sand layer, and also make their way to one of our numerous leaching handling stations.”

Environmental educator, Susan Lewicki, illustrates the concept using this model of a layered landfill.

Susan Lewicki:

“I’m going to simulate a little brain by just pouring some water through the top. Inevitably, the water starts to carry all sorts of whatever decomposing down to the bottom. The surrounding landscape does not receive the leachate. It’s going to be contained within the liner.”

And while leachate is contained and treated, a product of the landfill’s decomposition, methane, is actually offering some benefit.

Brian T. Murray:

“Methane is captured very simply. We just drill holes down in the landfill. And it’s open hole, we backfill that hole with stone, and then we put some perforated pipe down the stone. And what we’ve done is we’ve created a corridor for the landfill gas to escape from outside of the landfill.”

The captured methane is a viable fuel source, which is then used by the County Wastewater Operation.

Susan Lewicki:

“If you can contain and treat the leachate, it’s not resulting in groundwater contamination. If you can collect the methane, that can be used as a natural resource. That’s positive.”

Brian T. Murray:

“I really believe, that the reuse, the recycle, and the reduction of waste, has taken place in the industry, and its residents understand that, you know, they can definitely impact to the manner of trash they generate. When you put on the curb, it just doesn’t disappear, it has to go somewhere.”

Other Articles