Biodegradable materials, such as disposable cups and utensils, are broken down in landfills by microorganisms that then produce methane, says Dr Morton Barlaz, co-author of a paper describing the research, and professor and head of NC State’s Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering. ‘Methane can be a valuable energy source when captured, but is a potent greenhouse gas when released into the atmosphere,’ he adds.
And the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that only about 35 per cent of municipal solid waste goes to landfills that capture methane for energy use. EPA estimates that another 34 per cent of landfills capture methane and burn it off on-site, while 31 per cent allow the methane to escape.
‘In other words,’ Barlaz says, ‘biodegradable products are not necessarily more environmentally friendly when disposed in landfills.’
This problem may be exacerbated by the rate at which these human