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Sustainability Quiz 9. Landfill and GHGs

Sustainability Quiz 9. Landfill and GHGs

Sustainability Quiz 9. Which GHG is created by landfill?

An average Australian produces over 540 kg of waste annually, including 130 kilograms of plastic waste and just over 300kg of food waste. When you look at this figure over an average lifetime, the average Australian produces over 45,000 kg of garbage.

As a nation, we send 20 million tonnes of waste to landfill each year and we are the 2nd biggest garbage makers in the world after the USA. One reason we send so much to landfill is that many of us think the garbage is broken up somehow, but that isn't the case. It literally piles up. 

Around 35% of all landfill is food. Most people think food breaks down happily in landfill, but what does food waste really create?
      Carbon Dioxide
      Nothing. Birds eat it.

Landfills are tightly packed storage

When sent to landfill, food and other household waste is usually in plastic garbage bags, which are then sandwiched between other garbage bags into a large pile, before eventually being covered over entirely. While landfills are built to contain all our waste, they aren’t built for the natural breakdown of food and other matter.

Trapped without air (oxygen), food decomposing in landfill produces methane, a greenhouse gas (GHG) that is over 20 times as potent as carbon dioxide. Landfills account for about 1/3 of all methane emissions and according to the government, around 76% of waste sector emissions come from methane released from solid waste in landfills.

Landfill methane is used as a bioenergy fuel

While there is a great deal of commentary about the collection of landfill methane, just under 150 of the 600 landfills capture methane and use it for onsite energy. 

What can you do?

Understand how landfill works and that landfill waste doesn't just 'go away', it mounds up forever. While methane is often collected and most of Australia's 600 official landfill sites are out of our sight, they still exist & everything sent to landfill is sending piles higher.  In addition to the production of methane, landfill contaminates soil, ground water, and pollutes debris in the surrounding area, if not contained properly. 

It’s pretty clear that there is no ‘away’ place for our mound of waste. And at 20 million additional tonnes a year, that's one pile of perspective on why we should only buy what we need. Eat all the food we purchase and reuse / freeze leftovers and unused food. Use a green bin. Recycle everything possible. Resist trinkets and anything you won’t actually use. 


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