Saturday, June 4, 2011

Do Biodegradable Products In Landfills Hurt The Environment?

A recent North Carolina State University study published in Environmental Science & Technology argues that rapidly-biodegrading materials in landfills hurt the environment in the long-run.
This problem may be exacerbated by the rate at which these man-made biodegradable materials break down. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) guidelines call for products marked as “biodegradable” to decompose within “a reasonably short period of time” after disposal. But such rapid degradation may actually be environmentally harmful, because federal regulations do not require landfills that collect methane to install gas collection systems for at least two years after the waste is buried. If materials break down and release methane quickly, much of that methane will likely be emitted before the collection technology is installed. This means less potential fuel for energy use, and more greenhouse gas emissions.
As the quote implies, there are plenty of waste disposal centers that already do this. However, I don't agree with the study's conclusion:
“If we want to maximize the environmental benefit of biodegradable products in landfills,” Barlaz says, “we need to both expand methane collection at landfills and design these products to degrade more slowly – in contrast to FTC guidance.”
To me, spending more money to make methane collection more efficient makes way more sense than spending more money to redesign thousands of already biodegradable consumer goods to last longer in landfills.

So if we need a multi-billion dollar industry to change for the sake of enivornmental concerns over methane, it should be waste disposal - not consumer goods. 

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