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Longer Lasting Landfills Researched
Gainsville, FL— Emerging technologies could bring
the answer to current waste management challenges. The Florida Department
of Environmental Protection is sponsoring an outdoor experiment by the
University of Florida that could significantly extend the lifespan of
the nation's landfills and provide added protection to the environment.
The University of Florida has spent three years transforming a 13-acre
garbage mound at North Florida's New River Regional Landfill into a huge
"bioreactor." Next month, researchers will begin pumping leachate,
the liquid that develops as rain percolates through the waste, into the
garbage, kicking off a decay process that is designed to dramatically
accelerate its decomposition.
"Today's standard practice isolates garbage in landfills from the
ground by heavy-duty plastic liners," said John Schert, director
of the Florida Center for Solid and Hazardous Waste Management at UF,
which is managing the project. "By cutting the garbage off from air
and a consistent source of water, the waste often remains preserved for
decades, even centuries."
Infusing the garbage with water and air will spur proliferation of the
natural bacteria that breaks down garbage, forcing it to decompose in
the first few years when the liner is in the best condition. By breaking
down garbage quickly, the bioreactor technology could significantly reduce
the volume of waste in landfills, create space for more waste and reduce
the threat of groundwater contamination.
"Nearly 70 percent of garbage is composed of paper, food scraps,
cardboard and other material that decomposes," said Bill Hinkley,
chief of DEP's Bureau of Solid and Hazardous Waste. "Using current
landfill practices, bulky garbage fills space that could otherwise be
used for more waste. The bioreactor could cut the bulk in half."
Landfills in Florida and elsewhere are already experimenting with bioreactor
technology. The goal of this research is not only to find out how well
the technology works, but also to create engineering guidelines that provide
landfill designers with a roadmap for building effective bioreactor landfills
"The reality is we continue to landfill the majority of our solid
waste," said Tim Townsend, a UF associate professor of environmental
engineering and co-leader of the project with Debra Reinhart, a professor
of environmental engineering at the University of Central Florida. "If
we are going to continue, we need to figure out better ways to design
and operate our landfills."