Methane recovery effort wins plaudits from EPA
While it may seem like there is a never-ending flow of garbage trucks entering the place, the Deffenbaugh landfill in Shawnee does take several measures to clean up its act.
Recently, the landfill and a partner company received some recognition from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for their efforts to keep the site, and the air around it, a little bit fresher.
Since 1998, the landfill has kept the harmful greenhouse gas it produces from billowing into the atmosphere through services provided by South-Tex Treaters. Before it can break through to the surface, the company sucks up the gas and purifies it, turning it into a renewable fuel source.
"What's happening there between us and Deffenbaugh, we're doing something really good for the project," said Luke Morrow, South-Tex spokesman. "We are being proactive with odors and emissions and following EPA guidelines, and even stepping beyond them in some cases."
Morrow said in order to trap the landfill gas, the company drills holes into the trash as if drilling a water well. It then puts pipes in those holes, fills in the space around the pipe and more or less vacuums out the harmful gases. South-Tex uses about five miles of pipe to collect and transfer the gas, which it treats so the gas can be sold like natural gas.
Landfill gas is produced by the decomposition of the waste in the landfill. It is approximately 50 percent methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to global climate change and could create local smog or present health and safety hazards.
On May 11, the United States Environmental Protection Agency's Landfill Methane Outreach Program commended the Shawnee program for its achievements. EPA records show that the project at Deffenbaugh captures about 5 million cubic feet per day of landfill gas, enough to meet the winter heating requirements of 74,000 homes.
This makes the landfill's gas plant one of the three largest in the country. Other landfills may use their gas collection to heat a few buildings, but most get rid of methane by "burning it off" rather than recycling it.
"I know they (have gas plants) in New York and Houston, but I don't know of any other places where they do it on this scale," Morrow said.
Cindy Kemper, director of the Johnson County Environmental Department, said the landfill is regulated by the state of Kansas, and the county performs regular air pollution inspections there. She said the landfill is in compliance with EPA regulations for both air quality and solid waste.
"In general, the recycling of the gas produced by a landfill is a very good thing," Kemper said. "It's not very common in the United States that landfills do that, and we're very proud of that in Johnson County."