Tag Archives: greenhouse gases

Why Compost When I Can Landfill It?

Obviously I’m joking about the title, but people often forget that one of the main benefits of composting relates to greenhouse gas reduction.  How?  You may have wondered about this before…I know I did.  Why would throwing food scraps in my backyard pile be any different than in a landfill?

It all started today when I was reading a document about waste treatment methods (my other favorite topic) and I noticed a parallel with composting.  It was comparing the global warming potential of carbon dioxide alongside methane.

When waste is incinerated, it creates carbon dioxide amongst many other toxins that are conveniently ignored, although they include lead, mercury, dioxin, furans, and hydrochloric acid amongst others.  Carbon dioxide (CO2) has a global warming potential of 1.0.

On the other hand, landfilling results in the production of methane (CH4) amongst other things, which has a global warming potential of 21.0.  More and more landfills are installing landfill gas collection systems primarily to prevent gas migration and can utilize the non-methane gas (methane is usually burned off) to create some electricity.

Where was I going with this?  Oh right.  As I was reading about these global warming potentials, I remembered the time where I was asked how composting differs from landfilling as an eco-friendly waste disposal option.

To break it down simply, it all relates to airflow.  Composting is an aerobic process that requires oxygen to work best, and as soon as it’s lacking oxygen, the anaerobes start to take over, and now your compost pile is smelling pretty gross.  A good compost pile creates carbon dioxide.

On the other hand, landfills are anaerobic, which means there’s no oxygen in the process.  There seems to be this huge assumption that landfills are magical places full of biodegradation…they aren’t!  Yes, stuff degrades, but it’s done in the slowest and lamest way possible.

Again, composting creates carbon dioxide while that same material thrown in a landfill will create methane.  I feel like this explanation is often forgotten about when speaking about the benefits of composting, but it’s very legit and worth mentioning.

I often wonder what it will take to get most people to start composting…I think that this reason alone will come to the forefront in the next few years.  For those of you that don’t compost, dig a hole and get started!