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Waste Not Want Not: Landfill Finds Sustainable Waste Solution

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Waste management has been a baffling issue for years. Incineration has been seen as a viable option, except it’s not great at keeping our carbon footprint down. While recycling is great, its complex labeling system on what can and can’t go in the big blue bin can be a barrier. In Ada County, ID, a landfill has tackled its trash problem with interesting processes and partnerships.

Since 2007, the Ada County landfill has used the methane naturally produced by the landfill’s decomposing organic matter (known as landfill gas) to produce electricity for Idaho. This practice is considerably less environmentally intensive than the traditional practice of allowing the naturally occurring methane emissions to drift unused into the atmosphere. Instead, landfill gas burning produces carbon dioxide, a considerably less caustic greenhouse gas that is easier to manage.

Photo Courtesy Zibik

The county’s eco-friendly approach to waste management doesn’t stop there. The Ada County landfill program will start working with LFG Development, a waste management development firm that partnered with the county in 2018, to convert its landfill gas into renewable natural gas (RNG) in 2023. According to Ada County officials, this new program “will significantly reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.”

Converting the landfill gas into RNG involves cleaning and conditioning the methane to a certain standard. This process includes removing water, carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, and other trace elements, resulting in a fuel quality similar to conventional natural gas. Theoretically, the fuel is carbon neutral because it’s derived from the carbon the decomposing organic matter has accrued over its lifetime. 

Because RNG is considerably better quality than landfill gas, it has the potential to be used in applications outside of electricity generation, like transportation, which ultimately makes it more valuable than landfill gas. In addition, one of the byproducts of converting landfill gas into renewable natural gas is digestate, an organic substitute for traditional soil fertilizers.

Trucks similar to the one shown here use liquid biofuels to power them. // Photo Courtesy Gabriel Santos

The improvement in the waste management system is an incredible investment for Ada County. Before this venture, the landfill could only use a portion of the methane emissions and was forced to burn the rest. “We’re truly excited to build upon our existing partnership with Ada County and put the landfill’s gas to its highest and best use — renewable natural gas,” said Ahren Tryon, LFG Development CEO. “Fully utilizing the gas and no longer flaring a significant portion of it is simply the right thing to do from a conservation perspective.”

This investment is just one step toward helping Ada County reach its lofty environmental goal of being 100% clean energy dependent by 2045.

This project is about empowering the community. The revenue from selling the renewable natural gas will go directly back to support the county. Ada County Commission Board Chair Rod Beck says, “As one of the fastest-growing areas in the country, Ada County must have programs in place that protect our environment and our quality of life in a fiscally responsible manner.” 
It just goes to show that it pays to be environmentally responsible. “We are literally turning trash into cash for our taxpayers,” says Ada County Commissioner Ryan Davidson. “This process of capturing landfill gas and converting it to a usable and sustainable product is something that will benefit the entire Treasure Valley and beyond.”

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