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A Second Chance for Recyclable Waste: Landfill Mining

Landfills are commonly cast in a negative light. When you think of landfills, your mind likely journeys from thoughts of long-term methane emissions to air and groundwater pollution to restrictions on urban development. The list of negative qualities is certainly obvious. Worldwide, the generation of municipal solid waste (MSW) has been steadily increasing and landfills remain the dominant means for managing solid waste. To make matters worse, The World Bank has reported that global waste is predicted to triple by 2100.

Because of improper diversion of recycled materials, landfills continue to receive significant quantities of recyclable materials, especially metals. While recycling plastics and metals properly certainly makes a vital contribution towards minimizing landfill growth, there is a recent endeavour to reuse waste materials found in landfills. Landfill mining has reconceptualized our take on landfills. As opposed to harmful burdens, countries worldwide are now seeing the potential of these vast quantities as an enormous new resource. Since the economic value of landfilled metals is significant, it has fostered a global interest in recovering the landfilled metals through mining.

Landfills are now being viewed as an enormous untapped resource for many metals. Valuable recyclable materials formerly treated as waste are now being mined from landfills, providing a second chance at proper recycling. With such vast quantities taking up space in our landfills, this material now has the potential to provide a replenished supply for declining supplies of metals, which are commonly found in electronic products.

The Landfill Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a summary of the potential benefits of landfill reclamation. In addition to providing an additional resource for many metals and other reusable materials, landfill mining frees up valuable space and alleviates local pollution concerns related to landfills. The mining process extends the life of the landfill facilities by removing large amounts of recoverable materials. Recovering materials such as ferrous metals, aluminum and plastic is also an economic benefit since the market for such materials is ongoing. While we all know the benefits that are associated with proper recycling processes, the truth of the matter is that an enormous quantity of recycled materials actually end up in landfills. According to the National Geographic, a shocking 79% of recycled plastics are accumulating in landfills. With statistics like these, maybe landfill mining is the solution we’ve been waiting for.