Please see attachments for CSU REFERENCEs needed for the paper Unit IV EssayWeight: 10% of course gradeGrading RubricDue: Tuesday, 02/18/2020 11:59 PM (CST)InstructionsIn this unit, you became familiar with sources of municipal solid waste (MSW), beneficial uses of MSW, and MSW landfills.For this assignment, you will write an essay that addresses the components listed below.Discuss the sources and beneficial uses of municipal solid waste.Describe the differences between garbage, rubbish, and trash.Elaborate on the four characteristics of optimum routing of MSW collection trucks.Explain the purpose of transfer stations.Provide two positive and two negative aspects of incinerators.Describe the purpose of composting.Discuss four differences between dumps and landfills.Address the following question: If each person in a city of 20,000 people generates 5 pounds per day of MSW, how many pounds of MSW are generated in a year in the city?Address the following question: In a different city, if the landfill volume required per year is 300,000 m3, and the average fill depth is 15 m, what is the required landfill area (m2) per year?Your essay should flow smoothly from topic to topic with thoughtful transitions. It should be at least three pages in length, not counting the references page; a title page is optional.Support your essay with at least two peer-reviewed articles from the CSU Online Library. The articles should be no more than 20 years old. Feel free to use the textbook and other sources as references in addition to your two CSU Online Library sources. Be sure to properly cite and reference all sources, and use APA format.Impact of small municipal solid waste landfill on groundwater quality
Przydatek, Grzegorz 1
; Kanownik, Włodzimierz 2 1 Engineering Institute, State University of Applied Sciences in Nowy Sącz,
Nowy Sącz, Poland 2 Faculty of Environmental Engineering and Land Surveying, University of Agriculture
in Krakow, Kraków, Poland . Environmental Monitoring and Assessment ; Dordrecht Vol. 191, Iss. 3,
(Mar 2019): 1-14.
ProQuest document link
The aim of this paper is to analyse changes in the physicochemical elements in groundwater in the
vicinity of a small municipal solid waste landfill site located within the territory of the European Union
on the basis of 7-year hydrochemical research. Samples of groundwater and leachate near the examined
landfill were collected four times a year during two periods, between 2008 and 2012 during the use of
the landfill and between 2013 and 2014 at the stage of its closure. The research results were analysed
on the basis of general physicochemical properties: pH; total organic carbon (TOC); electrical
conductivity (EC); inorganic elements: Cr, Zn, Cd, Cu, Pb, Hg; and one organic element—polycyclic
aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH). The analysis was carried out in accordance with the EU and national
legislation requirements regarding landfill monitoring. The assessment of the groundwater and analysis
indicators of the leachate pollution allowed interpretation of the impact of the municipal solid waste
landfill on the state of the water environment in the immediate vicinity. The results show that the
increased values of Cd, EC, and TOC turned out to be the determinants of the negative impact of
leachate on the groundwater quality below the landfill. The integrated water threat model determined
the potential negative impact of a landfill site. The extent depended on local environmental conditions
and the self-cleaning process. Deterioration of the chemical status in the quality of the groundwater
within the landfill area was a consequence of the lack of efficiency of the existing drainage system,
which may result from the 19-year period of its use. The applied correlation relationship between
physicochemical elements between leachate and groundwater with a time shift due to the extended
time of migration of contaminants or mass transfer in waterlogged ground can be an important tool to
identify the threat of groundwater pollution in the area of landfill sites.
Mercury; Environmental monitoring; Migration; Physicochemical properties;
Groundwater quality; Cadmium; Solid wastes; Municipal solid waste; Contaminants; Electrical resistivity;
Copper; Research; Landfill; Legislation; Groundwater; Mass transfer; Waste disposal sites; Organic
chemistry; Territory; Wastes; Quality; Municipal landfills; Total organic carbon; Drainage systems; pH;
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons; Leachates; Ground water; Aromatic hydrocarbons; Zinc; Conductivity;
Groundwater pollution; Pollution monitoring; Environmental conditions; Mercury (metal); Water
quality; Municipal waste management; Water pollution; Electrical conductivity; Landfills; Organic
carbon; Solid waste management; Pollution; Cleaning process; Waterlogged ground; Waste
management industry; Aromatics; Chromium; Cleaning; Lead; Marine environment
Publication title:
Environmental Monitoring and Assessment; Dordrecht
Issue: 3
Pages: 1-14
Publication year:
Publication date:
Mar 2019
Springer Nature B.V.
Place of publication:
Country of publication: Netherlands, Dordrecht
Publication subject:
0167- 6369
Environmental Studies
Source type:
Scholarly Journals
Language of publication:
Document type:
Journal Article
Publication history :
Online publication date:
Milestone dates:
2019-01-29 (Registration) 2018-08-16 (Received) 2019-01-29 (Accepted)
ProQuest document ID: 2183043982
Document URL:
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Reserved., © 2019. This work is published under (the
“License”). Notwithstanding the ProQuest Terms and Conditions, you may use this content in
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Abbasi Energy, Sustainability and Society
(2018) 8:36
Energy, Sustainability
and Society
Open Access
The myth and the reality of energy
recovery from municipal solid waste
S A Abbasi
Background: Any manner of development can be sustainable only if the waste generated by it is not allowed to
accumulate but is fully reused/recycled/recovered. Among the strategies to attain this goal have been the attempts
to recover energy from municipal solid waste (MSW). About 60% of MSW is carbonaceous, consisting of materials
which can either be biodegraded into fuels like methane or incinerated, thereby generating utilizable energy. MSW
also contains several components—like metallic scrap and glass pieces—which can be reused or recycled, thereby
achieving energy conservation. Given these attributes, MSW appears to be a potential source of energy and resources.
Indeed, this belief that MSW is usable if only we try sincerely enough to do so prompts most of us to keep generating
much more MSW than is warranted. But how realizable really is the energy potential of MSW? What perils loom into
view when we actually set out to utilize MSW as an energy source? The present study addresses these crucially
important questions.
Methods: The work is based on a critical content analysis of the prior art.
Results: The generation of MSW has consistently outpaced the world’s efforts to dispose of it cleanly, and the
energy (and material) recovery from MSW is easier said than done. In most instances, what is technically feasible
is economically unfeasible. And what is economically feasible—such as setting the waste on fire as is often done
in developing countries—is exceedingly harmful to the environment and the human health. Measures such as
sanitary landfilling and incineration create as many new problems as the old ones they solve. Moreover, despite
the use of these less-than-adequate technologies, a major portion of MSW generated in the world lies untreated.
Conclusions: As the MSW output is expected to double by 2025, this situation is only set to become worse. Rising
tides of E-waste would compound the problem even further. Hence, enormous stress should be put on the reduction
of MSW generation by controlling wanton consumerism and wastage, rather than continuing with it in the false hope
that technology will soon provide a magical solution and eliminate the problem.
Keywords: Municipal solid waste, Landfills, Incineration, Anaerobic digestion, Composting, Biogas
The municipal solid waste problem
Municipal solid waste (MSW) is the name given to the
assorted, basically non-hazardous, biodegradable/nonbiodegradable, carbonaceous/non-carbonaceous, and
reusable/unusable solid waste that we generate in the
course of day-to-day living and regulatory/commercial
activities. Solid wastes from households, commerce,
trade, office buildings, and the yard, garden and street
sweepings come under the gamut of MSW [58, 136].
Centre for Pollution Control and Environmental Engineering, Pondicherry
University, Chinnakalapet, Puducherry 605 014, India
Construction and demolition debris, sewage sludges,
industrial process waste, hazardous hospital waste etc. are
excluded [176].
Even though MSW is generated wherever human beings dwell, its quantity and complexity are much higher
in urban and suburban situations compared to rural
ones [22, 26, 29, 98]. With very rapidly increasing rate of
urbanization all over the world and the rapidly growing
globalization-fuelled consumerism, urban solid waste
generation in developing economies like India and China
is rising steeply [51, 59, 124, 163]. Even the periodic
spells of economic slowdown, or fall in the rate of population growth, do not seem to reduce the increasing rate
© The Author(s). 2018 Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0
International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and
reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to
the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.
Abbasi Energy, Sustainability and Society
(2018) 8:36
of MSW generation in developing countries. For example, despite a 3.8% decrease in economic activity and
only 0.8% population growth that occurred in 2015 in
Brazil, the total quantity of MSW generated there increased by 1.7% [21]. In terms of their present per capita
MSW generation, these countries may be way behind
the developed ones (Fig. 1), but due to their much larger
populations, the country-wise MSW production there is
approaching that of the developed countries. For example, China and India have become the world’s second
and the seventh biggest MSW producers [182, 197]. The
Russian Federation, Brazil and Mexico are also among
the world’s top 10 biggest MSW-generating countries
(Fig. 2). Moreover, of the world’s 15 most populous
countries, 13 belong to the developing world and 9 of
these have population densities 2 times (Mexico) to 36
times (Bangladesh) greater than that of the USA. The
two most populous countries of the world—India and
China—with their combined population approaching
three billion have population densities 13 times and 4
times greater than that of the USA, respectively. All
these countries have a lot less land mass, per head,
available to assimilate MSW than the USA and several
other less densely populated countries. For this reason,
and also lack of resources to manage MSW, the problem
of MSW disposal is fast acquiring catastrophic proportions in several countries [27, 96, 134]. It is common to
see solid waste dumped at street corners, roadside and
water-bodies even in relatively much cleaner and
well-managed cities like Puducherry, India [2] (Figs. 3
and 4). During the last two decades, there has been exponential growth in another form of solid waste—the
Page 2 of 15
electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) waste, or
E-waste—which is often dumped along with MSW or
sent to MSW landfills [72, 146, 188]. In another 13 years,
the world’s MSW output is expected to double from its
present 1.3 billion tons to 2.6 billion tons [26, 197]. The
quantities of E-waste are also expected to multiply in the
coming years [145, 147] which will put much greater
stress on the governments and the people who are unable to cleanly dispose of most of even what is being
presently generated.
It was in the early 1970s that the problem of MSW disposal had begun to look daunting as urbanization began
its runaway growth [5]. From then onwards, extensive
R&D efforts have been made to find ways and means of
gainfully utilizing MSW [6–8, 17, 23, 35, 36, 141, 163,
164]. Till now, these efforts have not fructified in most
regions of the world beyond occasional success stories of
a village here or a neighborhood there managing to
assimilate their MSW within their premises [200]. For
example, the extent of MSW that is recycled in Malaysia
is a mere 5% [17] even though Malaysia is regarded as
among the most advanced of developing nations. But
vigorous efforts are continuing to be made even as the
problem is actually increasing in magnitude and complexity rather than getting even partially solved [15, 22, 98,
103, 166, 196]. The focus in recent years has been on generating energy from MSW, besides material recovery [16,
20, 63, 113, 200, 204]. The hope that a ‘clean and sustainable solution to the MSW problem (and the E-waste problem)’ is around the corner continues to be expressed [116,
175, 186]. What are the odds that these hopes will be realized? This paper attempts to answer this question.
Fig. 1 Relationship of prosperity, as reflected from human development index (UNDP, 2009), and per capita waste generation. Based on representative
data of major cities of 18 countries as reported in UN-HABITAT [180]
Abbasi Energy, Sustainability and Society
(2018) 8:36
Page 3 of 15
Fig. 2 Estimates of MSW collection in the world’s top 10 MSW producing countries (based on data from UNSTATS, 2011)
MSW as an energy source
Urban waste is made up of an assortment of materials,
not all of which are reusable, but most are [35, 42, 40,
61, 138, 193]. Due to the very large, and rising, quantities in which urban waste is generated all over the
world [42, 47, 96, 101, 136, 164] and the fact that over
half of it is biodegradable [2, 149, 150, 163, 191], it is
considered as a large reservoir of renewable energy
[29, 32, 38, 51, 95]. Indeed as is true for other
non-conventional energy sources, the energy that can
be, theoretically, derived from MSW is enormous [71,
102, 120, 203, 194]. Also, considering that MSW is not only
‘free’, but entails expenditure in transportation and disposal,
any prospect of deriving energy from it appears a great
blessing. But, as has almost always been happening with
Fig. 3 Indiscriminate dumping of solid waste (Puducherry, India)
other non-conventional energy sources [2, 8–11] , the picture soon begins to lose its sheen as environmental
impacts of different forms and magnitudes begin to
show up.
Prospective energy saving by material recovery
from MSW
Even before any attempt is made to generate energy
from MSW, some energy can be indirectly gained
from it in the form of usable materials [188]. Material
recovery achieves energy saving; for example, production of aluminum is an extremely energy-intensive
process, but recycling aluminum requires just one
tenth as much energy as producing it from bauxite
[144, 179]. Recycling of other common metals is also
Fig. 4 Solid waste dumped in a canal (Puducherry, India)
Abbasi Energy, Sustainability and Society
(2018) 8:36
believed to cost much less energy than their ab initio
production (Table 1). For precious metals like silver
and gold contained in waste computers, material
recovery is even more energy-saving [76]. These attributes always make material recovery an enchanting
prospect. But, on the ground, the prospect is hardly
put to practice. The main reason is that the revenues
generated from waste recyclables are not able to offset
the cost of collecting, sorting and transporting of
waste [128]. What appears profitable on paper when
seen out of context of hidden costs ceases to be so
when actually attempted. A good deal of valuables are
being illegally recovered from E-waste by informal,
unscientific, and labour-intensive recycling methods in
developing countries, but it is leading to such gross
pollution of the environment and is posing such grave
risk of serious diseases that the cost of it all will, in
the long run, likely to be several times higher than the
short-term material gains [45, 75, 146, 174, 178, 179].
Moreover, the presence of brominated fire retardants
(BFRs) in the non-metallic components of E-waste
makes the recycling of those components exceedingly
difficult [194].
It is pertinent to report that South Korea recycles
58.1% of its MSW [141], topping the list of the
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries in this respect. The countries
next to South Korea on this count are Germany and
Belgium who recycle 47.6% and 33.8% of their MSW,
respectively, while the average OECD MSW recycling
rate is only 25% [137]. Even this extent of success has
been achieved because these countries implement
‘volume-based waste fee’ (VWF) system or charge
‘pay-as-you-throw’ (PYT) fee. In this paradigm, the cost
of recycling items like plastic bags are added upfront to
their sale prices, and the revenue thus earned is utilized
in recycling the same items after they have been discarded. Seen from this perspective, VWF and PYT are
effective forms of taxes that are levied on certain items
to obtain the cost of recycling those items after they
had turn to waste. In this respect, VWF and PYT are
Table 1 Estimates of energy saved when a material is recovered
from waste in comparison to its ab initio production ([179])
Energy savings (%)
Iron and steel
> 80
Page 4 of 15
similar to the concept of ‘extended producer responsibility’ that is invoked in case of computers and other
information technology gadgets in developed countries
due to which the cost of recycling is added to the selling price. But whereas these schemes have achieved
some success in South Korea and the developed countries, it has not been possible to implement them in
India and other developing countries [147]. This is
because political compulsions make the governments
disinclined to charge what will be perceived as an extra
tax. There are also difficulties in the implementation of
such measures because even most of the environmental
protection laws have been subject to more breech than
compliance [1, 12].
Interestingly the state of New Jersey in the USA,
which was the first state to make recycling mandatory
(in 1987) and which led other states in terms of recycling the highest fraction of MSW (44.5%) for several
years thereafter, has fallen back in recent years [1]. This
has occurred due to the absence of state or local aid to
finance recycling programmes and the drop in the cost
of waste removal. Similar situations exist in most parts
of India, and indeed, many other regions of the world,
which are limiting the utility of recycling as a means of
energy conservation in the present-day economic paradigm. For example, Queensland, which is the second
largest state in Australia, recycles only about 5% of the
waste it produces [49]. In India, rag-pickers eke out a
subsistence living by sifting through mounds of waste
but at great risk to their health [27, 53, 160]. Quite
often, to facilitate picking of metallic scrap, the mounds
of waste are set on fire [2, 12, 22, 98]. This is not only a
highly eco-degrading and unhygienic practice but
achieves only very little recycling at very high environmental costs.
If assessment is done of the net energy gains from
the recovery of various materials and incentives given
to recycling the wastes that are of more value when
recycled than incinerated, the situation may change
for the better. But, as of now, there is no such move
on the horizon. The political and economic viability of
such a move, even if it gets made, is low because providing ‘incentives’ indirectly means providing subsidies
at taxpayer’s cost. All in all, a state of near saturation
seems to have been reached as far as limits to economically reuse MSW is concerned. Whatever little is
easily retrievable is retrieved. One can say that new
technology may emerge to find more remunerative
uses of MSW, but such prospects are dim because
several decades of intensive research all over the world
has brought forth processes which are technically
feasible but too costly to implement. Unless the
present benefit-cost equations change in favour of
MSW reuse, which are not likely in foreseeable future,
Abbasi Energy, Sustainability and Society
(2018) 8:36
there may be no further gains in energy saving
through this option—certainly not substantial enough
to make a difference.
Energy recovery by incineration
The most prevalent method of generating energy from
urban waste continues to be incineration. Incineration
has the advantage of greatly diminishing solid waste
quantities (up to 70%) and volumes (up to 90%) for
landfill and killing pathogens [41, 203]. Depending on
their location, incineration plants may also reduce the
distance that municipal wastes have to be hauled. But
these advantages are offset by emissions of carbon oxides, sulfur oxides, particulates, heavy metals and other
pollutants from the incinerators. For each tonne of
MSW that is incinerated, 15–40 kg of hazardous waste
is produced, requiring further treatment [83, 85, 96,
114, 118, 139, 195]. Particular attention has been focused on the emissions of dioxins and furans [43, 44,
112, 130, 205, 206], which are more toxic and costlier
to control than other pollutants. Indeed, waste incineration is regarded as one of the greatest contributors to
the release of dioxins into the environment [126, 207].
As is true for any and every form of pollution, it is,
theoretically, possible to control the pollution generated
by incinerators as well. Some of the economically developed countries have been able to achieve relatively ‘clean’
incineration of MSW by implementing very rigorous pollution control measures, typified by Austria [73, 148, 196,
197]. But in practice, it gets more and more expensive to
do so for every incremental improvement in the level of
treatment. As the volumes of waste to be handled increase,
the number of players managing the incinerators increases,
profit margins shrink and departures from ‘best practice’
become more and more frequent [106, 114, 119, 196].
In developing countries like India, implementation of
pollution control regulations is far from rigorous [1, 9,
12, 158, 160]. It is not uncommon to find companies
which install pollution control systems with incinerators
(to get the mandatory licence) but then save upon costs
of operation and maintenance by not operating such systems properly—often not at all. Elsewhere in the world,
too, polluters tend to save the cost of pollution control
in one unethical way or the other [119]. We have before
us the example of E-waste. By introducing legislation
based on ‘extended producer responsibility’ (EPR) paradigm, which in turn follows the principle of life-cyclebased environmental management, the European Union
and other developed countries have made E-waste disposal cleaner than it was [145, 146]. But this has also
made the disposal much more expensive than it was.
The result is that huge volumes of E-waste from these
countries are illegally exported to China, India, Africa
Page 5 of 15
and other developing countries where they grossly toxify
the environment [145, 146]. In a way, EPR has prompted
developed countries to ‘sweep some of their dirt’ to the
backyards of other countries. On their part, developing
countries are well aware of the problem but are unable
to contain it because, to the crafty middlemen and the
impoverished multitudes who, together, sustain the illegal
trade and recycling of E-waste, the immediate economic
gains are too compelling to worry about long-term environmental losses [146].
Incineration leads to emissions of metals like mercury
[108] and organics like dioxins [18, 84, 109, 166] which
are highly toxic. They not only put the people living in
the vicinity of incinerators to great risk [28, 110] but also
cause dispersion of these pollutants far and wide [54].
Elevated levels of these pollutants and their adverse effect on human health are being reported with increasing
frequency [107, 112, 156, 162, 189, 208].
Incineration is also known to increase the lability of
toxic metals which, otherwise, would have remained
contained in polymeric matrices. In this manner, incineration can actually enhance the damage potential
of some of the MSW even as it reduces its quantity
[86, 146]. Concern has been mounting over the disposal of the ash residues from incinerators, more so
because the content of toxic elements—cadmium,
mercury, arsenic and others—in MSW is increasing due
to the contribution from discarded E-waste, batteries,
lighting fixtures and other sources [68, 112, 193, 206].
Ecotoxicological studies on leachates obtained from ashes
produced by urban waste incinerators in EU countries
have prompted calls for more stringent regulations for
ashes disposal and use [187].
At some quarters, biosolid combustion is still
spoken of as a ‘green energy source’ [165, 192, 202]
and ‘beneficial to environment’ [127], but the broader
consensus is that even as incineration does not always
produce more energy than it utilizes, it almost always
does prove to be a major environmental stressor.
Every single effort of the government in India to set
up MSW incineration plants—often euphemistically
called waste-to-energy plants—is being met with stiff
opposition from the people [27, 129].On the one hand,
such plants are a source of enormous pollution and,
on the other hand, generate energy which is about
twice as costly as the energy available from the grid,
even after budgeting for the clean development mechanism (CDM) credits. It is no wonder, then, that the
three waste-to-energy plants that were set up near
three major MSW dump sites in Delhi are almost idle
[27]. Elsewhere, the waste-to-energy plants that have
been set up by the Indian government in partnership
with private players have been heavily subsidized—
none is commercially viable [134].
Abbasi Energy, Sustainability and Society
(2018) 8:36
Worse still, once incinerators have been installed, the
compulsion to utilize their capacity to the full can (and
does) result in a tendency to increase the waste stream
through the curtailment of recycling, a situation wherein,
effectively, more energy is wasted than is produced. It can
be said that widespread reliance on incineration as a solid
waste management option may turn out to be ‘a remedy
worse than the disease’.
Capture and utilization of landfill gas
As per the information currently projected by the
United Nations Statistics Division [182], which is
based on the data pertaining to 2009 provided by 52 of
the developing countries, these countries were generating 368 million tonnes of MSW. But the list does
not include some of the world’s largest countries—
India, Brazil, Indonesia, Malaysia, etc.—and can be at
best considered broadly indicative. As per this data,
about three fourths of all the MSW is ‘landfilled’ in
developing countries. But except in China, where
about half the MSW is put in sanitary landfills, most
of the MSW in other developing countries—including
India which is among the most technologically advanced of developing countries—is just dumped on
public (government-owned) land [70, 158, 181, 198]. It
is erroneously called ‘landfilling’ because no compacting, sealing, leachate collection or methane capture is
exercised [22, 27, 51, 70, 98, 157, 198]. Even in
Delhi—which is the capital of India and from where
most of the scientific and technological research in
India is coordinated—the MSW is simply piled up on
land. The biggest of such dump sites, at Bhalaswa, has
by now risen to a height of 55 m, with no possibility of
it being closed from further dumping in the foreseeable future. This fact has made the Supreme Court of
India sarcastically remark that the landfill site ‘will
one day touch the height of Qutub Minar and red beacon light will have to be used to ward off the aircraft’
[27]. Ever so often these mountain-size piles tend to
collapse under their own weight. The most recent
such collapse, at the Ghazipur dump site, killed two
people [27]. With India now producing over 55 million
metric tonnes of MSW per year of which a mere 22%
is treated and disposed of [134], the heights of the
waste dumps are only going to increase across India.
The toppling of such dumps can spell disaster—at
least 39 people died, 11 houses destroyed and sewage
was dammed by waste when a MSW dump toppled in
Istanbul in 1993 [99]. Similar collapses of MSW
mounds in Quezon City, Philippines, in 2000 and in
Bandung, Indonesia, in 2005 resulted in 278 and 147
confirmed deaths, respectively.
Among developed countries, Canada, the USA, Ireland,
Portugal, Iceland, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Qatar
Page 6 of 15
and Spain send more than 50% of their MSW to landfills,
closely followed by Italy (49.2%), the UK (49.1%) and
Finland (46.1%). The USA, which has the highest per
capita MSW generation in the world, adds to about 205
million metric tonnes of MSW per annum and sends 63%
of it to landfills [45]. These figures indicate that the
reliance of the world on sanitary landfills is not only very
high; it is likely to increase in the future as India and other
developing countries may try to move from waste dumps
to sanitary landfills [22, 98, 157].
Hence, despite the by now well-documented problems of foul-smelling and toxic gas emissions, water
and soil pollution caused by the leachate, explosion
and fire hazards, and contribution to global warming,
[82, 97] landfills will continue to be used widely for
urban waste disposal for want of a better option [14,
24, 48, 62, 107, 115, 132]. No other solid waste management technology can handle substances of such
varied characteristics as sanitary landfills can nor is
any other technology as inexpensive, for each tonne of
assorted waste handled, as sanitary landfills. Indeed,
for many countries like India, who are hard put to
bear the costs of even sanitary landfills, the possibility
of using more expensive ‘cleaner’ technologies of
MSW management is very remote.
In a landfill, the compacted waste initially undergoes
aerobic decomposition [43, 74, 123], but the oxygen is
soon depleted and anaerobic degradation sets in [4,
124]. The resulting emissions typically contain about
55% methane (CH4) and about 45% carbon dioxide
(CO2). Both are global warming gases, of which the
former has, molecule to molecule, 25 times more global
warming potential (GWP) than the latter [3]. By some
estimates, CH4 has 34 times greater GWP than CO2
[159]. Several measurements at simulated lab-scale
landfills and also at full-scale existing landfills have indicated that landfills may also be emitting nitrous oxide
(N2O). Given that N2O has 300 times greater GWP
than CO2, this is a possibility of great concern [94]. But
of equally serious concern are the emissions of highly
toxic inorganics and organic compounds that occur in
the landfill gas (LFG), of which several are also
ozone-depleting substaces [83, 86]. These include mercury vapour [199, 171], highly toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances [131], other toxic volatile organics
[130] and malodorous hydrogen sulfide and mercaptans
[55, 100]. Dioxins have also been recorded among the
LFG emissions [111, 155]; their levels shoot up to
several thousand times higher if some part of the landfill contents happens to catch fire [60, 130]. It has also
been found that brominated flame retardants—which are
common in landfills—can undergo photolytic degradation
on the landfill surface to generate dioxin-like compounds [167, 168]. But if the toxic and odorous LFG is
Abbasi Energy, Sustainability and Society
(2018) 8:36
aesthetically offensive and hazardous to plants and
animals, it pales into insignificance in comparison to the
lethal cocktail of chemicals that a typical landfill leachate
is. Thick with toxic levels of metals and metalloids,
harmful organics including dioxins and pathogenic
microorganisms, the leachates play havoc with the soil,
water and biota which come in their contact [69, 78, 89,
109]. Even small quantities of landfill leachate are capable
of causing serious damage to surface and groundwater
receptors [13]. In recent years, a new class of pollutants
has entered landfill leachates—engineered nanomaterials
[142]. In what manner and to what extent they can harm
biota is largely unknown.
Whereas sanitary landfills have been monitored for
the quality of their LFG and leachate, no such assessment exists of the emissions that come from the mountains of garbage which are rising in India and elsewhere
due to the dumping of MSW. Ever so often fires break
out in these piles due to the emitting methane getting
auto-ignited. Equally often, rag-pickers set the MSW on
fire to make picking of metallic components easy. In
peri-urban areas and villages where there is no organized MSW collection, it is common for the inhabitants
to heap up the strewn MSW and set it on fire. In all
such instances, copious amounts of dioxin and other
toxic gases must be getting released, but of which no
account exists. There are a few reports on toxic emissions but only with reference to E-waste dumps [39]. In
the like manner, the leachate coming out of the waste
dumps must be severely polluting the soil and water,
but there is no documentation of it, let alone any measures to combat it being in place [12, 27, 134].
About 0.35 Nm3 of landfill gas (LFG)—also called ‘biogas’—is generated per kilogram of solid waste, representing a substantial source of energy. For long, the cost of
recovering, cleaning and using LFG had worked out
higher than the cost of equivalent amounts of fossil fuel
energy except at a few locations. Due to this, the LFG was
either simply allowed to escape or was flared off [2, 184].
But in recent years, LFG has been recognized as a major
contributor to the global GHG emissions—for example, it
is estimated to contribute as much as 12% of the global
methane emissions [184, 185]. This has prompted efforts
to capture and use LFG as a fuel [122, 183, 184, 186]. This
route still leads to CO2 emissions, but the GWP of LFG
gets substantially lowered due to the conversion of
methane into the much lesser global warming CO2 [3].
As of now, there are 632 operational LFG energy projects in the USA [184], in which methane from 26% of
the landfills in the USA is being captured for energy
recovery. The utilization of LFG in Germany and elsewhere in Western Europe is even better [57, 135, 153,
154]. The European Union has passed regulations to
enforce effective management of LFG [135, 201], and
Page 7 of 15
developing countries are also trying to catch-up [17, 19,
100, 104, 200, 204]. But the fact remains that under the
best of circumstances, not more than 90% of LFG can be
captured; the success rate in this respect is generally
closer to 60%, and very substantial quantities of methane
continue to escape. For example, despite vigorous implementation of LFG capture programmes in Germany
which reduced GHG emissions to approximately two
thirds, as much as 60,000 to 135,000 t CO2 equivalent of
LFG is still being emitted annually [81, 153]. Secondly,
the duration up to which a landfill emits biogas at a rate
adequately high for recovery at bearable costs is 7 to
10 years [88, 126, 190]. Subsequently, the gas flux
dwindles to make recovery prohibitively uneconomical
even as the gas continues to emerge for several decades
Thus, after a landfill has attained a certain age its
biogas emissions become too lean to make capture
practicable yet are significant enough to contribute to
global warming and other forms of pollution. Attempts
such as in situ aeration to shift the waste degradation
process from anaerobic to aerobic—so that it generates
CO2 instead of methane [79, 153]—are being made. But
they will only add to the cost of the landfill maintenance.
Much of what happens in a conventional sanitary
landfill cannot be controlled or doctored because a
conventional sanitary landfill is essentially alternative
layers of soil and MSW which have been compacted.
This realization had led to the concept of ‘bioreactor
landfills’, which was introduced in the late 1970s [80,
143]. The concept envisages to turn conventional
sanitary landfills into rigorously controlled ‘bioreactors’. For example if the MSW can be pre-processed in
terms of separating the non-biodegradables, then
shredding the biodegradable part, and if the leachate
is recirculated—after some pre-treatment— it may
enhance the rate of biodegradation occurring in the
landfill. This can, in turn, make the landfill more
space-efficient and ‘clean’. Provision can also be made
for steps such as ozonation of stabilized waste. To
achieve all these, appropriate controls of temperature,
moisture, pH and nutrients—factors which most
strongly effect the rate of biodegradation in a landfill—can be put in place.
During the last two decades, substantial efforts have
been invested in developing the bioreactor landfill technology [13, 30, 65, 66, 80, 81, 87, 80, 91–93, 118, 140,
153, 152, 172, 196]. But very few full-scale landfill bioreactors are currently in operation, of which none exists in
any developing country [12, 80, 81, 170]. The reasons
are not hard to see; every step to turn a conventional
landfill into a bioreactor requires capital and recurring
expenditure. The more controlled—hence efficient—a bioreactor landfill is, the costlier will be its commissioning
Abbasi Energy, Sustainability and Society
(2018) 8:36
and operation. When a large part of the world is unable to
afford even conventional sanitary landfills, there is a little
possibility that it will be able to set up bioreactor landfills.
Independent of the bioreactor concept, extensive research is also being done on the treatment of landfill
leachate [34, 77, 117, 133, 161, 198]. But in this case,
too, better the extent of treatment, higher is the cost. As
a result, much of the leachate is either not treated at
all—as in India [27, 134]—or is given only ‘affordable’
treatment which leaves much of its toxicity unaddressed.
The constraint in leachate treatment—as it indeed is in
most problems of pollution control being faced by the
world—is not the technology but the costs [12].
There are also risks associated with the failure of landfill
liners/covers and leachate dams. In one instance, this type
of failure, which occurred at Quezon City, Philippines, in
2000 led to as many as 278 confirmed deaths, besides over
80 people missing who were presumed dead [31, 121].
Considering that there are also risks of fire, explosion and
pollution [105, 125], the gain of energy recovery from
landfills can at best be viewed as ‘achieving some good
from a bad bargain’. It may reduce GHG emissions linked
to urban waste disposal but will not eliminate them.
Moreover, if the quantities of urban waste generation continue to rise, especially in the economically advancing
countries as is reflected clearly in the trends [2, 26], the
advantage would soon be offset by the additional emissions. Given this context, the hope expressed by some authors that ‘sustainable’ bio-plastic can be produced using
landfill-derived methane [46, 201] or ‘renewable energy
assets’ can be developed by harvesting solar energy falling
on landfills [90] appears rather unrealistic. In Europe
alone, an estimated 5.25 billion tonnes of MSW has been
landfilled between 1995 and 2015, of which plastic is estimated to have contributed over a billion tonnes [37].
Possibilities of excavating and recycling this plastic have
been assessed and found unattractive because of the
high level of ash, heavy metals and other impurities
now embedded in it [37].
Anaerobic digestion of MSW
Another route by which energy can be generated from
MSW is by anaerobic digestion (AD) of some of its biodegradable component. Efforts are being made to bring
in larger fractions of MSW within the preview of AD,
enhance the AD process efficiency and improve its presently negative energy balance [2, 25, 50, 52, 56, 71, 126,
151, 169, 177].
Anaerobic digestion has been a hugely successful option for treating liquid wastes carrying high chemical
oxygen demand (COD) [2, 172] and animal manure
[173]. Compared to aerobic processes, anaerobic processes need less energy to operate. They also generate
energy in the form of methane-rich biogas, and it is
Page 8 of 15
possible to run anaerobic digesters in a manner that they
become ‘energy positive’—in other words, yield more
energy than they consume [33, 71].
But serious operational problems are encountered
when MSW or other biodegradable solid waste (such as
leaf litter, weeds, vegetable and fruit peels, food waste)
is to be processed by anaerobic digestion [7, 64, 67].
Feeding such a waste and ensuring its digestion and the
movement of the digested product out of the reactor
are all besieged with problems because, unlike liquid
waste which can be easily homogenated and which
moves through reactors easily, solid waste creates
major difficulties in mass transport [7]. This necessitates a lot of pre-processing, pre-treatment and also
post-digestion processing which all add to the cost of
the system [2, 152, 178].
Developing countries, including the world’s two most
populous countries—China and India—extensively use
‘biogas plants’ which are essentially ‘low-rate’ anaerobic
digesters suitable for processing animal manure [173].
These and other developing countries also use ‘high-rate’
anaerobic digesters for treating high-COD wastewaters
such as distillery and food industry wastewaters [2, 3]. But
none of these countries can afford anaerobic digestion of
MSW because of the much higher costs involved. AD is
being utilized only in some of the developed countries,
especially of Western Europe [50] due to these attributes:
1. Because anaerobic digesters are enclosed systems,
they allow all of the biogas to be collected, unlike
the landfill biogas of which only 30–40% is usually
captured, if at all. Even at the best of times, a
maximum of 60% of landfill biogas is retrievable.
2. An end product that can be used as a soil
conditioner is produced. By mixing the refuse with
animal dung, the system efficiency can be improved,
allowing for a more simple process design, thereby
improving the economic viability of the system.
This is due to the better C:N ratio that is achieved
if MSW is mixed with dung.
3. By diverting easily digestible organic waste material
to anaerobic digesters instead of sending it to
landfills, better overall methane capture is possible
as also reduction of gaseous and liquid emissions
from landfills.
But anaerobic digestion of MSW is also besieged with
serious problems:
1. The nature of organic waste in MSW may vary
according to location and time of the year. In postharvest seasons, for example, levels of crop waste, leaf
litter, etc. may be higher. This may lead to a variation
in the C/N ratio and affect the rate of gas production.
Sizing of equipment
Biogas upgrading
Insufficient adaptation of fermenter and EG capacity which result in:
i) Reduced electrical efficiency of EG
ii) Increased pollutant emission from EG
iii) Intermittent operation of EG
The efficiency of H2S reduction cannot be estimated properly resulting in oversized or
undersized installations.
Lack of reliable data on the biogas yield of energy crops
Lack of reliable data on the degradation capacity of the H2S
oxidizing bacteria
i) Reduction of the ignitability of the gas due to the resultant lowering of the CH4 content of biogas
i) Uncontrolled methane emissions occur
Open digestate storage tanks
The moisture content poses problems in:
i) The transportation of biogas
ii) In the measuring devices in the gas main
iii) In the functioning of the EG
i) Stable mesophilic temperature conditions cannot be achieved
ii) Process failure occurs due to the reduced microbial activity above 42 °C
Formation of biogenic heat by mono-fermentation of energy crops
Incomplete drying of biogas
i) Large reactor volumes are needed thereby adversely effecting process economics
ii) Low specific methane productivity
iii) High energy input per ton of substrate for heating and mixing
Long hydraulic retention time
Entry of surplus air to the fermenter for biological desulphurization
i) Reduces biogas yield
ii) Incomplete degradation of the substrate
Short-circuiting during the flow of substrate
i) Reduces lifespan of the electricity generator (EG)
i) Reduction of the gas storage capacity in the top of the fermenter
ii) Fermenter can be operated only at reduced loading
iii) Gas pipe will get clogged
Accumulation of biogas in the fermenter digestate
Insufficient biological desulphurization
i) Reduces biogas yield
ii) Causes clogging of the overflow pipe
iii) The entire process can break down
i) Risk of blockage in screw conveyors of diameter < 300 mm ii) Piston systems cause compacting of long fiber crops iii) Flushing systems cannot be applied for crops of low density Direct solids feeding by screw conveyor, piston and flushing systems Scum formation i) Digestion occurs to some extent causing losses of methane to the atmosphere ii) Mixing consumes a lot of energy Mixing of silage and process water in an external open tank Fermenter and storage tank i) Reduces process stability ii) Reduces biogas yield iii) Can cause H2S-surges to occur in the biogas Nature of feed makes it impossible to achieve exactly continuous flow Solids feeding i) Would reduce anaerobic degradation rate ii) Risk of scum formation in the fermenter iii) Difficulty in the handling of the substrate Portions of the substrate may not get broken into sufficiently small pieces i) May cause inhibition of methanogenic activity in the digestion step Formation of mold during ensiling and storage of energy crops Substrate pre-treatment i) Amounts to loss of some utilizable portion of the substrate ii) Increases the risk of inhibition of the subsequent methanogenic process Formation of organic acids during storage (pickle-formation effect); partial digestion Storage Consequences Problems Process step Table 2 Problems encountered at different steps when anaerobic digestion process is sought to be utilized for crop and other solid waste (adopted from Weiland, 2005) Abbasi Energy, Sustainability and Society (2018) 8:36 Page 9 of 15 Abbasi Energy, Sustainability and Society (2018) 8:36 2. Inadequate mixing of refuse and sewage can affect the efficiency of the anaerobic digestion system. 3. Blockage of pipes can be caused if large pieces of waste enter the system. This problem is particularly common in continuous systems. Table 2 lists the problems and the difficulties that they cause. Hence, widespread use of anaerobic digestion for large-scale treatment of MSW is a very remote possibility. Even if the process is made less costly than it is today, the possibility of it becoming a net energy producer is still very remote. Conclusions From the time some four decades ago when the MSW problem started becoming serious due to the increasing MSW generation across the world, efforts have been made by researchers, governments, industry and voluntary organizations to address this problem. There has been a particularly strong emphasis from the outset on recovery, reuse and recycling. The expectation has been that these measures, together, may offset the monetary and environmental costs of MSW management. Particularly strong efforts have been made to develop technologies for the recovery of energy from MSW by direct use as fuel (incineration) or by converting MSW into gaseous or liquid fuels via landfilling, anaerobic digestion and other bioprocesses. The state-of-the-art reveals that the generation of MSW has consistently outpaced the world’s efforts to dispose it cleanly. It has become evident again and again that energy (and material) recovery from MSW is easier said than done. In most instances, what is technically feasible is economically unfeasible. And what is economically feasible—such as setting the waste on fire as is often done in developing countries—is exceedingly harmful to the environment and the human health. Measures such as sanitary landfilling and incineration create as many new problems as the old ones they solve. Moreover, despite the use of these less-than-adequate technologies, a major portion of MSW generated in the world lies untreated. As the MSW output is expected to double by 2025, this situation is only set to become worse. Rising tides of a new solid waste stream that has begun to swell from the late 1990s onwards—E-waste— are threatening to compound the problem even further. Yet another new complication is emerging ─ of nanomaterials entering MSW. Hence, enormous stress should be put on the reduction of MSW generation by controlling wanton consumerism and wastage, rather than continuing with it in the false hope that technology will soon provide a magical solution and eliminate the problem. Page 10 of 15 Abbreviations AD: Anaerobic digestion; CDM: Clean Development Mechanism; EG: Electricity generator; E-waste: Electronic waste; GHG: Global warming gas; LFG: Landfill gas; MSW: Municipal solid waste Acknowledgements SAA thanks the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), New Delhi, for the Emeritus Scientist position (21(1034)/16/EMR-II). Funding The work has not been based on any funding or other forms of support received from any source by the author. Author’s contributions The author has read and approved the final manuscript. Ethics approval and consent to participate There were no living systems, including human subjects, used in this study. The information presented here does not contain any individual person’s data. Competing interests The author declares that he has no competing interests. Publisher’s Note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations. 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