Landfill Mining: The Future?


For hundreds of years, we’ve been dumping our waste in landfill sites all around the globe.

Unfortunately, these sites are now presenting an environmental hazard.

For instance, landfill sites are one of the largest sources of methane emissions, one of the most potent greenhouse gases.

As well as that, older landfill sites which aren’t correctly sealed leak polluted liquids into the earth, often resulting in groundwater contamination.

Modern landfill sites are sealed with rubber and clay barriers, reducing the liquids and gases that escape.

However, they’re still simply huge piles of stagnant waste.

The waste that we’ve been dumping into landfill sites for years can come from our homes, commercial businesses, industrial businesses and many more sources.

The waste itself can consist of pretty much anything; office waste, discarded tins, clothing and electronics to plastic and metal to construction and industrial waste.

The items which take the longest to break down include glass bottles, nappies, plastic bottles and bags and aluminium cans.

Therefore, these items must be placed in recycling, for if they aren’t, they’ll simply lie in landfill for a long, long time.

But what if we could actually benefit from landfill sites and the waste that fills them?

This is where landfill mining comes into it.

What is landfill mining?

Landfill mining is exactly what it sounds like – digging into landfill sites to make the most of the valuable materials and energy that sits in these sites.

This method of extraction has actually been happening on some scale since 1953, when the Hiriya landfill in Tel Aviv, Israel, began to explore mining.

However, these days there is far more attention from researchers and scientists, who are searching for ways to reduce our environmental impact when searching for fuel sources.

If it’s implemented successfully, landfill mining can mean millions of kilograms of metals, wood and plastics can be recycled and used in the manufacturing process of many different products.

As well as this, mining into landfill can generate fuel for use in all kinds of areas – by cars, industries and homes.

Furthermore, there is a wealth of recyclable materials available for construction. If we can access these, construction costs could fall, and the environmental impact of construction waste will fall immeasurably.

What are the benefits of landfill mining?

There are a number of benefits to landfill mining, which is why this method is being so closely studied in recent years.

For instance, we can save on energy use by utilising the gases and other energy sources that can be found in landfill sites.

As well as that, we’ll be doing less damage to the environment. By mining landfill sites for these fuels, we won’t need to drill for oil and gas, or mine for coal.

These processes often have a catastrophic effect on the local eco-system, so to avoid that damage is a fantastic benefit.

Secondly, by recovering and recycling so many materials that can be used in manufacturing, we’ll be reducing the carbon footprint of a number of manufacturing industries.

The recoverable materials can include plastics, glass, construction materials, electronics, rubber and much more.

Thirdly, landfill mining can save money.

For example, the process of mining landfill will be far less expensive than mining into the earth for fossil fuels. As well as that, recycling materials will save on the need to purchase new materials for manufacture.

Mining into landfill will also free up more land, which can then be used to build housing estates, apartment blocks, parks or commercial and industrial space.

It also results in less pollution, as potential waste is removed from the environment and repurposed responsibly.

But is landfill mining worth it?

There are clearly many benefits to mining the hundreds of thousands of landfill sites across the globe.

However, there are also a number of negative aspects to this process, and this means that the cost and the benefits needs to be analysed before mining a landfill.

Depending on the value of the materials in the landfill, it may end up costing far more money to mine it than it’s actually worth.

For instance, a number of landfill mining projects in the US and Europe have been scrapped due to the lack of value in the landfill.

On the other hand, one landfill mining project in the USA recovered $7.42 million worth of recovered metals, at a recovery cost of about $5 million, resulting in a large profit.

There are environmental risks too – if a landfill is seen as unstable, mining into it could mean risking releasing certain pollutants into the environment.

It’s simply a case by case basis, involving an in-depth analysis before mining takes place, to ensure that the process is safe, and financially viable.

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