National Waste & Recycling Association

The National Waste & Recycling Association is the trade association that represents the private sector solid waste and recycling industry. Visit and learn more the Association at

Begin with the Bin is a public education resource developed by the National Waste & Recycling Association.

The National Waste & Recycling Association is located at:
4301 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 300, Washington, DC 20008
T: 800-424-2869, 202-244-4700
F: 202-966-4824
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Media: Chris Doherty at 202-364-3751 or

Begin with the Bin

Begin with the Bin is a public education resource developed by the National Waste & Recycling Association. The site offers information and resources related to the waste and recycling industries. Visit and learn more at

Landfill Gas & Renewable Energy

Imagine a future where communities are powered by the trash they throw away – that future is here. Through innovation and leadership from members of the National Waste & Recycling Association and others associated with the solid waste industry, our waste can now be tapped as a source of renewable and sustainable energy. This happens primarily through two technologies: landfill-gas-to-energy projects and waste-to-energy facilities.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration, the solid waste industry currently produces nearly half of America’s renewable energy. Energy produced from waste and other forms of biomass matches almost the combined energy outputs of the solar, geothermal, hydroelectric, and wind power industries.

The use of landfill-gas-to-energy and waste-to-energy enhances our national security by reducing our reliance on foreign energy. These activities also help reduce emissions that cause climate change, because landfill-gas-to-energy projects involve capturing methane (a greenhouse gas), while waste-to-energy activities displace fossil fuel sources and lower landfill methane emissions by diverting waste from landfills.

Our members are dedicated to advancing processes and technologies to help meet some of the biggest challenges of the 21st century, making our country a better place to live and work for current and future generations.

Energy from Landfill Gas

As landfill waste decomposes, it produces methane and other gases. More than 75 percent of this gas is available for use as “green” energy. Landfill gas can be used to generate electricity, or it can be piped directly to a nearby manufacturing plant, school, government building and other facility for heating and cooling.

Explore the image above, using your cursor or touch-screen.

Trash, buried beneath a layer of soil, decomposes and produces gas. Landfill operators place collection wells that act like straws throughout a landfill to draw out the methane gas. The gas is then piped to a compression and filtering unit beside the landfill. Technicians make sure that the gas is filtered properly before it is sent to its end user. The entire process is carefully managed to prevent odors and leakage of waste material.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as of July 2014, there are 636 operational projects in 48 states generating nearly 2,000 megawatts of electricity per year and delivering enough renewable energy to power nearly 1.1 million homes and heat over 700,000 homes. It is worth noting that the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states that landfill gas recovery directly reduces greenhouse gas emissions. The EPA estimates that using methane as renewable energy instead of oil and gas has the annual environmental and energy benefits equivalent to:

  • The greenhouse gas emissions from more than 33 million passenger cars
  • Or eliminating carbon dioxide emissions from over 11.6 billion gallons of gasoline consumed
  • Or sequestering carbon from over 22.1 million acres of pine or fir forests.

Higher energy prices have helped these activities become one of the fastest growing segments of our industry. As of July 2013, EPA estimates that about 440 additional landfills currently are candidates for landfill-gas-to-energy projects, with the potential to produce enough electricity to power 500,000 homes. And continued innovation will allow us to expand the use of landfill gas for energy. One example is a “bioreactor”: a landfill where liquids are added to the waste and re-circulated to make the trash decompose faster and speeds the production of landfill gas. This is not a hypothetical technology – this is happening now.

The Role of Renewable Energy Consumption in the Nation’s Energy Supply, 2013

Note: Biomass includes waste-to-energy and landfill-gas-to-energy. Source: U.S. DOE, Energy Information Administration

Download our new Landfill Gas Renewable Energy Fact Sheet.

Energy from Waste-to-Energy Facilities

In addition to landfill gas, waste-based energy also is produced by waste-to-energy facilities. According to the Energy Recovery Council, as of 2014, America’s solid waste industry operated 86 waste-to-energy facilities in 24 states with the capacity to process more than 97,000 tons of municipal solid waste per day. Our facilities process in excess of 30 million tons of trash per year. The nation’s waste-to-energy facilities have the capacity to generate the energy equivalent of 2,790 megawatt hours of electricity, including an electric generating capacity of 2,572 megawatts and the equivalent of 218 megawatts based from steam, enough to power 1.6 million homes.

Environmentalists. Every Day.

There are many examples of manufacturing plants, schools, government buildings and other facilities that are using landfill gas for heating and power. Learn more about how they are using landfill-gas-to-energy to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and save millions of dollars in annual energy costs.

NASA Explores the Heavens Using Landfill Gas

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) heats 31 buildings at its Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD, using energy from landfill gas. Goddard is home to the nation’s most accomplished scientists and engineers who are dedicated to learning and sharing their knowledge of the Earth, sun, the solar system, and universe. Goddard employees build and operate NASA science research satellites (including the Hubble Space Telescope), manage tracking and orbital operations, and design and construct instruments flown on other NASA and international space missions.

The space agency harnesses methane gas from a nearby landfill and uses it to fire boilers that produce steam at the Goddard Center. Landfill gas provides 95 percent of the ’center’s heating needs, with natural gas serving the remaining five percent.

“The environmental benefits are huge,” said Barry Green, Goddard Energy Manager. “We are reducing emissions equivalent to taking 35,000 cars off the road per year or planting 47,000 acres of trees.”

NASA will save taxpayers more than $3.5 million over the next decade in fuel costs. Goddard was the first federal facility to heat its buildings with landfill gas.

This gas is sourced from the Sandy Hill Landfill operated by Waste Management (WM), Inc., in Prince George’s County, Maryland. This landfill has collected about 5.2 million tons of trash and is expected to generate landfill gas for at decades.

Prior to Goddard’s use of the landfill gas, all of it was burned off in a flare.

Methane is drawn out of the landfill by wells that look like long perforated pipes. The decomposition of trash releases great amounts of methane. WM placed more than 80 wells approximately 250 feet apart across the Sandy Hill Landfill. The wells are attached to a central vacuum system that draws out the methane and delivers it to the purification plant.

There are four major steps to purifying the landfill gas. (Water-free gas is much easier to transport and burn. Therefore, water removal is a major part of the landfill gas purification process.)

  1. Filters in the landfill gas purification plant sift out tiny particles and water
  2. A gas compressor squeezes out more water.
  3. The gas is then chilled drawing out even more water.
  4. The plant reheats the gas and transports it to Goddard.

Mars Makes Something Sweet with Landfill Gas

In May 2008, the Mars Snackfood US factory in Waco, TX, started fueling its boilers with methane from the Waco Regional Landfill. The company uses landfill gas to power two steam furnaces for the plant’s candy-making operations. The nearly 40-year-old Waco plant, which employs more than 450, makes 85 percent of the popular Snickers candy bars produced in North America.

The methane – an odorless, flammable byproduct of decomposition – is harvested through 56 wells punched into the landfill. It is piped some five miles to the candy factory where it has replaced 60 percent of the natural gas the factory was using to generate steam for cooking, hot water and humidity control. The switch was projected to save hundreds of thousands of dollars in gas costs a year, while removing explosive gas from the landfill and cutting down on greenhouse gas emissions, Mars officials said. The energy from the landfill would be enough to heat 2,800 homes.

In addition to cost savings for the company, the project also reduces more than 10,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, which has the same environmental impact of avoiding the emissions of 2,000 cars. “Turning waste into energy is a smart strategy for business and the environment,” said EPA Regional Administrator Richard E. Greene. “EPA is pleased to be working with partners like Mars Snackfood on innovative projects like this one that deliver clean, renewable sources of energy.”

Learn more at EPA.

BMW Powered by Waste Management

Waste Management, Inc.’s Palmetto Landfill helps power BMW’s manufacturing plant in Spartanburg, SC. BMW and WM built a 9.5-mile pipeline for landfill gas delivery to the plant where it is used to power four onsite turbines and “cogenerate” electricity and hot water for the automotive plant. The turbines, which were previously powered by natural gas, have been powered by landfill gas that covers about 30% of the plant's electrical needs as well as over 50% of the plant's total energy requirement.

This Palmetto Landfill generates a substantial amount of gas. The energy created through this partnership is equivalent to the amount of energy necessary to heat 15,000 homes a year. Before this project was implemented, the landfill gas was collected and burned in flares in an effort to reduce odors and methane gas emissions. The captured gas offers a source of renewable and nonpolluting energy that will last as long as the landfill waste continues to decompose – through 2030 and beyond.

The use of this renewable energy source provides more than 25 percent of BMW’s energy needs in Spartanburg while reducing its dependence on nonrenewable fossil fuels and lowering the area’s carbon dioxide emissions.

For its efforts, BMW has won several national and state environmental awards, including the South Carolina Governor’s Pollution Prevention Award, EPA’s Green Power Award, and EPA’s Landfill Methane Outreach Program (LMOP) Project of the Year award. Learn more about the BWM program at BMW and EPA.

Powering Education with Landfill Gas

Through a landmark partnership, Waste Management, Inc. (WM) supplies the University of New Hampshire (UNH) with enough landfill gas to cover 80 to 85 percent of its energy needs. Called the ‘‘EcoLine,’’ this landfill gas project sends renewable, carbon-neutral landfill gas through a 12.7-mile pipeline from Waste Management’s landfill in Rochester, NH, directly to the Durham, NH, campus.

At Waste Management’s Turnkey Recycling and Environmental Enterprise (TREE) facility in Rochester, the company operates a gas collection system consisting of more than 300 extraction wells, miles of collection pipes, and compressors to capture the landfill gas.

Substituting landfill gas for natural gas at the institution’s co-generation plant, has stabilized fluctuating energy costs. Additionally, EcoLine has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions..

“By reducing the university’s dependence on fossil fuels and reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, EcoLine is an environmentally and fiscally responsible initiative,’’ said UNH President Mark Huddleston. ‘‘UNH is proud to lead the nation and our peer institutions in this landmark step toward sustainability.’’

Learn more about UNH’s use of landfill gas: WM and UNH.

Republic Services Landfill Powering Anheuser-Busch Brewery

Republic Services is providing biogas from its McCarty Road Landfill in Houston to the nearby Anheuser-Busch brewery for use as a renewable fuel source. Once processed, the gas is carried through a six-mile pipeline to the brewery to help generate steam energy for the its power plant. More than 58 percent of the brewery’s fuel demand is supplied by this new alternative fuel source.

The benefit of this clean energy project is equivalent to planting more than 121,050 acres of pine or fir trees or taking 97,550 motor vehicles off the road. Additional gas from the McCarty Road landfill also is captured, processed and sold to a local utility.

“McCarty Road Landfill has been an important part of the community for more than 34 years,” said Rusty Waldrup, area president, Republic Services. “As a key employer and a longtime supporter of community initiatives, we’re excited to be part of an important alternative energy project.” McCarty Road Landfill is the main recipient of refuse from the residents and businesses in east Houston and the surrounding suburbs.

“We routinely evaluate innovative energy technologies to help support our operations and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels,” said Richard Wohlfarth, general manager of Anheuser-Busch’s Houston brewery. “We take great pride in our ongoing efforts to reduce our environmental impacts by increasing efficiencies at our facilities and using innovative technologies while maintaining our quality standards.”

The project was completed in May of 2009.

Such projects are win-win opportunities for all parties involved, whether they are the landfill owner/operators, the local utility, the local government, or the surrounding community. Even before landfill gas projects produce profits from the sale or use of electricity, they produce a related benefit for communities: jobs. These projects involve engineers, construction firms, equipment vendors, and utilities or end-users of the power produced. Much of this cost is spent locally for drilling, piping, construction, and hiring operational personnel, providing additional economic benefits to the community through increased employment and local sales. Once the system is in place, the captured gas can be sold for use as fuel or be converted and sold on the energy market as a renewable “green” power. In so doing, the community can turn a financial liability into an asset and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Alameda and Palo Alto, CA, Use Landfill Gas as Reliable Source of Renewable Energy

One of California’s largest renewable energy projects, a landfill-gas-to-energy station at Republic Services‘ Ox Mountain Landfill in Half Moon Bay, has been generating renewable energy for the cities of Alameda and Palo Alto. The annual electricity generated by the Ox Mountain project prevents the release of 71,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. That is the equivalent of taking 11,800 cars off the road.

Alameda Municipal Power purchases 85 percent of its power from renewable energy resources. The Ox Mountain plant alone provides approximately 11 percent of the electricity consumed in the East Bay community. This new facility is one of four landfill-gas-to-energy resources presently powering Alameda. As a result more than 20 percent of Alameda’s power is being generated by landfill-gas-to-energy plants.

As a result of its utility’s power portfolio, Alameda ranks among the lowest in greenhouse gas emissions in California. Known as “The Greenest Little Utility in America,” environmental responsibility has been a major criterion in power resource selection and development by the utility since the 1980s. “The landfill-gas-to-energy project at Ox Mountain allows us to offer our customers another carbon-free source of power, and continue our quarter century commitment to renewable energy,” said Ann L. McCormick, P.E., President of the City of Alameda Public Utilities Board.

The nearby city of Palo Alto similarly had adopted goals of meeting 33 percent of its electric needs by 2015 with new qualifying renewable resources like the Ox Mountain Landfill. Palo Alto’s share of the project was projected to supply about 4 percent of the city’s electric needs. “Making use of this renewable energy resource reduces the amount of market power we have to purchase, which reduces the need for fossil fuel-powered electric generation in California,” said Peter Drekmeier, former Mayor of the City of Palo Alto. “By burning methane, which is one of the most potent greenhouse gases, this project has the added benefit of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the landfill.”

Landfill gas is created when organic waste in landfills decomposes, producing methane–the primary ingredient in natural gas and a greenhouse gas. The landfill gas to energy plant captures the methane and turns it into electricity for use by residential and business customers. Converting landfill gas to energy prevents the release of greenhouse gases and creates electricity from a renewable, affordable source—reducing the need for power created from fossil fuels.

“The commissioning of this significant renewable energy resource for the people of California is another example of Republic’s commitment to the environment,” said Jeff Andrews, Senior Vice President West Region, Republic Services, Inc. “This is a larger plant in terms of renewable electricity production from landfill gas, and also represents the current best available technology for emissions controls, making it an extremely clean renewable energy source.”

Honeywell Uses Landfill Gas for Power and as Feedstock

Every day, Honeywell International Inc.’s chemical plant in Hopewell, VA, consumes about 57 million cubic feet of gas to fuel the plant’s operations and as a raw material to manufacture a key ingredient in nylon. To manage it costs, Honeywell looked to landfill gas. The 18-inch pipeline connecting the Honeywell facility in Hopewell with the landfill owned by Waste Management, Inc. located 23 miles away in Waverly, VA,  is unprecedented in scope.

“It is the [longest] pipeline of its kind in the country,” said Keith Togna, an engineer and energy coordinator at the Hopewell plant. When it was completed in late 2003, the Waverly-to-Hopewell pipeline eclipsed the previous record-holder, a landfill-gas pipeline in Wichita, KS, by more than 10 miles.

Landfill gas may eventually displace as much as 50 percent of the plant’s fuel needs.” Honeywell officials predict that the plant could save about $50 million in energy cost over the life of the landfill gas contract.

The 373-acre Waverly landfill takes in about 15,000 tons of trash a day. The landfill, which rises above the surrounding landscape like a small mountain, has been in operation since 1994 and has about 95 million cubic yards of space left, or about enough for another 35 years.

Officials with Honeywell and Waste Management tout the environmental benefits of the project, which helps reduce methane emissions into the atmosphere and cuts back on fossil-fuel use. “The days of just digging a hole and burying trash in it are done,” said Michael P. Kearns, the district manager overseeing the landfill. Methane “is a byproduct of the decomposition process, and it is being used beneficially,” he said.

According to the EPA, the pipeline project has resulted in a reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions equivalent to planting 5,544 square miles of trees.

GM, Largest Corporate User of Landfill Gas

General Motors is another automotive manufacturer investing in the future of waste-based energy. The company proudly describes itself as the largest direct, corporate user of landfill gas as a replacement for natural gas in the United States. Starting in 2000, General Motors worked to reduce its natural gas consumption by 25 percent by replacing it with landfill gas.

Several GM facilities currently have a portion of their energy needs filled through landfill gas, including assembly plants in Fort Wayne, IN; and Orion, MI; and a powertrain plant located in Toledo, OH. Two additional locations in Grand Blanc and Flint, MI, utilize landfill gas by purchasing electricity generated from a landfill gas-to-electricity program. At most of the facilities, the gas is piped to the plant and combusted in boilers, providing a cost-effective, renewable energy source.

For its Fort Wayne assembly plant, where 3,800 employees produce GM Sierras and Chevy Silverados, GM worked with Republic Services to collect and deliver landfill gas and retrofit the plant to use it. A contractor built an 8-mile delivery pipeline and modified a boiler at the plant to burn landfill gas to produce steam to heat and cool the assembly plant and run equipment. The project supplies about 40 percent of the plant’s energy needs. GM estimates that the landfill gas use at this plant delivers annual greenhouse gas reductions equivalent to planting 6,000 acres of forest, removing the emissions of 4,200 vehicles, or preventing the use of 51,200 barrels of oil.  At the Orion, MI plant, landfill gas is accounting for 54 percent of the energy usage.

Landfill gas installations at these GM plants have allowed the company to generate annual savings of $10 million. Learn more about GM’s commitment to using sustainable energy from landfill gas at GM and Green Car Congress.