Landfill Gas Recovery and Policy Issues

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Landfill gas recovery has great promise for keeping methane out of the atmosphere where it can contribute to global warming. Landfill gas is also a possible green source of energy and a potential replacement for fossil fuels. However, at the same time, landfills are environmental hazards and contribute to the consumption mindset prevalent in our society.
As a result, policy makers often found themselves trying to establish the right balance between encouraging landfill gas recovery while discouraging the generation of more waste. Policies typically focus on two key issues: should landfill operators receive tax subsidies to perform landfill gas recovery and should landfill gas recovery count as recycling.
Recent economic stimulus efforts have included money to be spent on developing green energy and weaning our country off of fossil fuels. It would seem reasonable that providing tax subsidies to landfill operators for landfill gas recovery would meet these goals. Recovered landfill gas can be used to generate electricity or as a replacement for natural gas for heating. This gas is a waste product that would otherwise escape and contribute to global warming.

However, tax subsidies for landfill gas recovery undermine efforts to reduce waste that focus on recycling and diverting organic wastes towards composting rather than the landfill. Subsidizing landfills encourages us to continue to generate waste by delaying the need for improved recycling techniques. Subsidies artificially lower the cost of operating a landfill which makes it seem cheaper than newer technologies for dealing with waste, which are not subsidized. As a result, opponents of tax subsidies for landfill gas recovery propose that gas recovery be a requirement for all landfills.
The tax issue clearly illustrates how difficult it is for policy makers to balance the conflicting interests of environmental protection, development of green energy and discouraging waste. The recycling issue further complicates matters.
Many locales have regulations requiring landfills to divert waste that can be recycled. These regulations typically specify a certain amount of waste or percentage of waste that should be recycled. Some feel that landfill gas recovery should count towards this recycling requirement. It is after all, creating a new product from waste.

Opponents of this approach will point out that the point of the recycling requirements is to divert waste away from landfills and encourage consumers to reduce and recycle. Counting landfill gas recovery as recycling does not divert waste away from the landfill. It simply counts and already existing byproduct of landfills as recycling. Furthermore, the US EPA definition of recycling is to take items that are no longer useful in their current form, reduce them to raw materials to be used to make new products. Using the products as fuel does not fit this definition.
Policy makers have a number of challenges when trying to determine how to best create policies that encourage landfill gas recovery as a potential source of green energy without increasing our reliance on landfills. Policies should also encourage greater recycling and less creation of waste in the first place. These competing priorities create a difficult landscape in which to create policy.

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