Bioreactor Drawbacks

"The bioreactor, with all its hazardous potential, is... fostering a system reliant on ever greater levels of wasting, no matter the environmental toll."—Heather Rogers, journalist, author, and filmmaker.

Heather Rogers, "Titans of Trash," Nation, December 19, 2005, p. 22.

The goal of both methods is to speed up methane and leachate production that otherwise would occur many years into the future, so that it can be quickly removed or used to produce energy. According to the National Solid Wastes Management Association, research has shown that bioreactor landfills generate air and water emissions for only about seven to ten years compared to thirty years for a conventional landfill. Cleaning many of the toxins from landfills in this way, supporters claim, allows for quicker return of the landfill properties to productive uses such as parks.

Another idea to reduce air emissions at landfills is the use of biocovers or "phytocapping"—basically using composted yard waste, living trees, or other vegetation to cover the waste. This creates a biologically active, natural filter that helps to oxidize and destroy methane emissions and other organic compounds as they seep from the ground, keeping them from polluting the environment. Living vegetation can also intercept rainfall, helping to prevent water from penetrating underlying landfill materials.

However, because of the possibility that all landfills will eventually leak their contents into the surrounding environment, landfill critics question the use of any type of landfill system in future waste management schemes. As the Grassroots Recycling Network puts it: "Landfills remain an antiquated and unsustainable method of resource management, a threat to public and environmental health, and a substantial contributor to climate change. Bioreactor technology will not mitigate [resolve] these issues and is merely a stop-gap measure that fails to address the real issue of wasted resources in this country."50

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