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Student Scholarship Winner: Cameron Mains

October 6, 2020

The essays shared here include the data cited and opinions expressed by the student applicants in response to a request to “Provide a one-page essay about the role some aspect of solid waste management (e.g., education, recycling, food waste recovery, composting, landfilling, etc.) plays in addressing an environmental issue currently in the news.  What are the responsibilities of individuals who generate the waste (including producers/manufacturers and consumers) versus the professionals tasked with managing the waste?” 

Untapped Potential

By Cameron Mains

Solid waste has the untapped potential to generate clean energy. The current issue is that many modem-day landfills are not capitalizing on the gases emitted from decomposing waste. Only around 15% of United States active landfills collect methane to be produced into electricity. These facilities also reduce their methane emissions anywhere from 60 to 90 percent. More landfills need to adopt landfill gas energy projects to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere and to produce energy that can supply thousands of families.

In this case, consumers do not need to majorly change what they are throwing away. Common citizens will continue to supply landfills with waste and the more that is properly handled by the landfills, the more energy produced. However, people can think about what they are throwing away because not all garbage is equal. Plastics and other slowly-degrading materials should be kept to a minimum and reused if possible. This kind of waste often does not break down in landfills and will not generate any methane to be harvested. It just takes up space. Civilians need to be further educated on their waste and how to be mindful of the environment when throwing things in the trash.

On the other hand, sanitation management has the large task to develop facilities that utilize landfill gases. The Landfill Methane Outreach Program run by the Environmental Protection Agency is the leading organization in converting active landfills to capture methane emissions for energy. More waste management professionals need to be working towards landfill gas energy projects. Scientists and engineers need to be researching and inventing more efficient and attainable models for landfills to make this underutilized resource beneficial.

About the Author:

Cameron MainsCameron Mains

Cameron Mains, Washington Evergreen Chapter, attending University of Washington, was selected for the Category I Scholarship. Mr. Mains is enrolling in a Mechanical Engineering program. 


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