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Welcome to coffee corner! It's your chance to share your views and have an opinion. You do have an opinion don't you? Good, bad or indifferent, we welcome them, so grab yourself a cuppa' and a choccy biscuit and then express yourself! This week’s topic of discussion is:

The Landfill Myth.

When most of us think about landfill, we think about old rubbish dumps and piles of noxious waste, rotting and stinking and effervescing poisonous gases into the atmosphere that is polluting our air and warming our atmosphere with a blanket of methane. Right?

Well, old dumping grounds used to be quite like this (although never quite this bad!) and it is this image that many of us carry around with us, along with all the endless sound bites we are fed by the media and eco-warriers. "We are poisoning the Earth". "We should be ashamed of ourselves". "We are treating the Earth as a dumping ground" and so on.

A lot of this is true - especially when you consider the sorts of materials that are dumped that will not biodegrade and can hang around intact for hundreds if not thousands of years - metals, plastics, electronics, solvents, etc.

But what about organic waste, such as food and paper. These stuffs biodegrade, but they give off methane, which causes global warming, right? Well, yes and no. Yes, organic waste in landfill decomposes to give off methane, but no, it does not necessarily cause global warming to any great extent. First, large fractions of methane in modern landfill are now collected and burned for fuel, thus preventing it from ever reaching the atmosphere. In Australia, modern landfill sites claim to be collecting 94% of all methane produced by decomposition of organic products. But here's the really interesting thing: they actually try and encourage the decomposition so that they can extract the methane quickly so as to return the landfill to normal use as soon as possible. They can become playing fields, or forests, or even housing. So the space once occupied by landfill does not go to waste. But here's the really, REALLY interesting thing. In order to make sure that the decomposition takes place as quickly as possible, they carefully remove all paper waste, as this is now known to actually INHIBIT the process!

The paper that is removed is stored separately in the landfill with other waste paper and packaging and it is then that something remarkable happens:


Yep, that's right. Nothing happens to the paper. It does not decay. It just sits there, so to speak, keeping its carbon content safely locked up and out of the atmosphere.

When scientists recently excavated some of these disused landfill sites (they had to dig up parks and playgrounds to get to them) they found that in sites where paper was recovered that was c. 20 to 30 years old, NO DECAY was measured. The paper was very wet, above the fibres saturation point, but when dried, it was shown to still possess its original weight of carbon. In an older site they found paper that had decayed by 18% (it was 50 years old) but this was put down to the fact that the policy of separating it from other organics had not yet been implemented and so it was mixed with other stuff which would have contributed to this greatly.

What do you think?

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