Garbage Mining

Garbage Mining

We were talking trash one day—literally trash—and the topic of future uses for landfills emerged.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010 - 11:09am


An earlier post on virgin materials triggered a memory for me. The memory was of a discussion that I once had with Santa Barbara’s former mayor Marty Blum—a big time advocate of green everything. Not sure how it all came up, but we were talking trash one day—literally trash—and the topic of future uses for landfills emerged. And my reflex answer was: Garbage mines. She got it at once.

Where should we go looking for future resources? The answer could be: Exactly where we have stored tons and tons of them in the past. The vision being that nearly mature and even retired dumps could be transformed into integrated operations where past waste is mined and retooled into raw materials, compost, and—in a very careful and sensitive manner—feedstock for energy co-generation or bio-fuels.

In addition, new "waste" could be simultaneously processed through the same set of operations. The end result of this being close-at-hand supplies of metal, fiber, and plastic as well as topsoil replacement and a little energy production on the side. It is just like mining only the ore is old beach chairs, Atari computers, and orange peels.

The response of experts to this has traditionally been: We have done the math and it does not pencil out. To that I might repost that they are using the wrong pencil. First, straight landfill recycling—looking for aluminum cans, plastic bottles, glass, and uncontaminated paper—may not work, but what about an integrated operation as described above that makes room for new trash by mining the old and has an income stream from resource recovery, tipping fees, energy production, and not having to buy new lands?

Sure there are some challenges in this pursuit and we have not yet gotten around the problem of the lost value of food contaminated paper wares. But what if someone developed a product that loved mashed potatoes and newsprint? And what if resource sorting was made easier by some as yet developed mechanism just waiting for the light of day? And what if folks finally started paying the true cost of their products, what would that do to the penciling of this idea? All food for thought, but I am looking forward to a day when we open no new mines, cut down far less trees, and use less fuel because we use what we already collected. is dedicated to our users. We focus our attention on changing the world through recycling, waste-to-energy and conservation. We reward our users for their sustainable behaviors on our website, through our Greenopolis Tracking Stations and with curbside recycling programs.