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SPC report discourages biodegradation in landfills

A new SPC report concludes that biodegradation in modern landfills is not to be encouraged, as on net, the harmful GHG impacts of landfill emissions are likely to outweigh the benefits of energy recovery.
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The Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC) has released a report on biodegradation in landfills and the resulting greenhouse gas impacts, a key issue for the packaging industry given increasing marketing claims that biodegradation in landfills is a benefit due to the growing use of methane-rich landfill gas for energy.

Assessing the Greenhouse Gas Impacts of Biodegradation in Landfills” explores the generation of greenhouse gases in landfills and the natural and engineered strategies used to mitigate their effects, including soil oxidation, flaring, and landfill gas for energy.
The report was intended to present the latest understanding on how materials behave in landfill environments and the mechanisms that influence biodegradation, and to provide an objective comparison of the greenhouse gas benefits of energy recovery relative to the harm of unavoidable landfill emissions. The report concludes that biodegradation in modern landfills is not to be encouraged, as on net, the harmful greenhouse gas impacts of landfill emissions are likely to outweigh the benefits of energy recovery.

"We are seeing more companies position biodegradation as a benefit, even for materials likely to end up in landfills where biodegradability is not a desirable trait,” says GreenBlue project associate Adam Gendell, who led the SPC research project and authored the report. "The growing use of landfill methane as an energy source is a commendable mitigation strategy, but it has created a false sense of optimism. Energy recovery only puts a dent in the greenhouse gas profiles of landfills; overall, they are still a tremendous contributor of greenhouse gas emissions."

A copy of the report is available to members free and to nonmembers for $75.

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