Comparing Greenhouse Gases from Composting and Landfilling

Brittany Deesing

Abstract


Landfills are the most significant anthropogenic source of methane released into the atmosphere in the United States1. Methane and other greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide, contribute to global climate change. Methane is the largest contributor to global climate change because it absorbs infrared radiation twenty-five times more than carbon dioxide2. In 2012, the EPA estimated that 38-52% of what was landfilled could have been composted3. Composting organic waste versus landfilling saves land, does not release hydrogen sulfides or produce groundwater pollution, and provides citizens the opportunity to create a more sustainable waste management system as compost recycles organic waste to produce garden soil rich in nutrition. However, composting is the aerobic breakdown of organic material and also releases carbon dioxide, and can sometimes release other greenhouse gases such as methane and nitrous oxide. This paper compares the greenhouse gases produced by landfills and composting in CO2 equivalents. It validates that although composting does release some methane and nitrous oxide into the atmosphere, it is still far less of an impact on the environment overall than landfilling organic material, and releases less than 8% of the greenhouse gases produced by landfilling for every ton of waste.


Keywords


greenhouse gases, composting pollution, landfill pollution

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