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NASA Flew Gas Detectors Above California, Found ‘Super Emitters’ (www.bloomberg.com)
391 points by zeristor 11 days ago | hide | past | web | 190 comments | favorite





As an individual I'm happy to make sacrifices for the greater good, and this is an example of why we should not accept the narrative that consumers bear the brunt of reducing emissions.

Maybe California should do a few more of these flights before finding something else to ban?


I only recently learned the history of "anti-littering" marketing campaigns [0], conceived to push responsibility for waste onto consumers rather than producers, who were switching from metals and glass to much cheaper (but no longer reusable) plastics.

Whatever individuals can do to reduce inefficiency and carbon footprint is surely a good thing; but it's no replacement for systems thinking, and applying incentives on the production side (IMO, best accomplished by setting a price on externalities, through Pigovian taxes and dividends [1]).

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keep_America_Beautiful#History

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pigovian_tax


There is a narrative developing about the anti-littering marketing campaigns which I think tries to paint it as a cynical ploy by businesses.

Just to frame things as someone alive at the time in one part of America… single serving glass bottles were not returned to the store, they had no deposit. They were thrown away. Beer cans had no deposit. They were thrown away. (Steel soda cans weren't a thing, they stayed in bottles until aluminum came around) Fast-food cups were waxed paper. Straws were paper. The lids were plastic.

Companies were up front about controlling littering, using their brand loyalty to achieve it. McDonalds even had a "we don't like to see our name thrown around like this" campaign showing a clearly branded paper bag in a ditch.

Most roadside litter was steel beer cans, glass bottles (many broken), paper wrappers and bags. Any picnic area would have beer can pull tabs all over the place. It was actually an effort to retrain people to put the tab into the can so it eventually got thrown away instead of just tossing it where the barefoot children played. Coors introduced a special beer top which had a big hole and a little hole to jab your fingers through so there wouldn't be a beer tab to deal with! Eventually the aluminum lid with no loose parts was developed, but that was a decade after the anti littering campaigns.

It's taken half a century, but now most people don't chuck garbage out their car windows. Some people do. Some areas of the country are much worse than others. If you think littering isn't a thing, then it probably isn't where you live. But, there are areas where the roadside ditches are still full of fresh litter.


I think you misunderstood what the op said. They weren't saying that littering wasn't a thing, but rather the narrative around litter is that it is solely the responsibility of the consumer.

This article talks a little more about what I think the op was speaking to: https://theintercept.com/2019/10/18/coca-cola-recycling-plas...


Many non profits adopt sections of road and clean it up once a year, receiving provincial funds as a small fund raiser where I live. Bags of garbage each time so littering is still a thing unfortunately.

My yard has a small stream and is near a relatively busy road. A couple times a year I go into the stream and clean up all the litter that has been washed into it. Littering is definitely still a thing.

<blockquote> It was actually an effort to retrain people to put the tab into the can so it eventually got thrown away...</blockquote>

Which was then a choking hazard. C.f., https://www.passenpowell.com/potential-child-safety-hazard-s... and also in pop-culture: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0570625/


> There is a narrative developing about the anti-littering marketing campaigns which I think tries to paint it as a cynical ploy by businesses.

Really? That's just what Big Garbage wants you to think. You're obviously a shill in the pay of the National Trash Association.


NPR’s Throughline Podcast [1][2] had a whole episode on how the anti littering campaign was created. It’s well worth listening to.

[1] https://www.npr.org/2019/09/04/757539617/the-litter-myth [2] Transcript: https://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?stor...


Per the article, most of the sites were landfills, dairy farms, and natural gas facilities. All of those are directly controlled by consumer demand.

It's not all landfills, it's a small collection of landfills. And if they aren't fixed, even if everybody went zero waste today, those landfills would still be emitting large amounts of methane.

Proper landfill design & operation ensures the landfill is aerated, which keeps decomposition primarily aerobic which produces little methane. A poorly designed or operated landfill with little aeration will switch to aerobic metabolism, which is what produces large quantities of methane.


> even if everybody went zero waste today, those landfills would still be emitting large amounts of methane.

If everyone went zero waste then nothing would be added to the landfill, and its methane production would taper out to nothing as a result.


> Formation of methane and CO2 commences about six months after depositing the landfill material. The evolution of gas reaches a maximum at about 20 years, then declines over the course of decades. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Landfill_gas

From the top charts for image search "landfill gas chart", suggests methane(CH4) vents heavily for 3-5 years, then a long taper.


If every reseller proposed a discounted "no packaging" option, people would produce less waste. If providing such an option was mandatory or even just incentivized, more resellers would propose it.

Consumers do have some power, but they are not the only ones and we should demand an effort from all parts of society there.

On the other hand, I doubt it is plastic waste that produce methane, an organic byproduct. Maybe food wastes are at fault. In which case your enemy is not overpackaging and may actually be your (temporary) ally


This is something I've always wondered (being someone who is heavily into compost), since the byproduct of aerobic decomposition is CO2, which is actually worse? Aerobic, or Anaerobic? Both produce GHGs, Methane is the worse one, but obviously if it was produced in smaller quantities then it would be more beneficial. Also what lasts longer in the atmosphere? CO2 or Methane?

Methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas, and it naturally degrades into CO2 in the atmosphere. Burning methane it on the ground, even not for energy, helps mitigate the warming effect, because it is that much more potent than CO2.

I get that it's more potent, i wrote that in my comment. But if composting aerobically releases 50 times more CO2 than composting anaerobically does methane, then composting anaerobically is the better option.

The CO2 from compost came from surface organic matter, which got it from the air in the first place. It is a net zero proposition (discounting potential transit costs which may or may not apply).

The rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere come from burning hydrocarbons which originate from below the earth's surface, where they were not part of the carbon cycle for millions of years. Burning faster than natural sequestration below the surface is reaponsible for the overall rise.

All else being equal, methane has a stronger greenhouse effect, but breaks down, unlike CO2 which is only sequestered by plants.


I get that it's net zero, but it's still releasing it back into the atmosphere. Burying the compostable material might actually be a way of sequestering carbon.

I agree that it can be reduced, my point was that it is directly tied to consumer demand and human activity. It will still be a none-zero number after reduction. No business is out there emitting methane for shits and giggles.

As I said elsewhere in this post, you can cut emission but population growth offsets all the benefits. You cannot address climate change without drastic long term reduction in human activity/population.


Consumption is even further removed from externalities than the companies which do this damage in the first place. It always strikes me as odd when consumers are blamed for the damage companies do when producing their goods. It's not like it says on the packaging "During the production of this product, XXX chemicals were released into your rivers" for consumers to make an informed choice in this matter. Furthermore, companies actively try to hide and cover up the damage that they do. Oil companies have known about the impacts of their products on global warming since the 70's and have waged a HUGE disinformation campaign to say otherwise. Now we are in a situation where half the country doesn't believe in global warming, but it's the consumers fault?

> You cannot address climate change without drastic long term reduction in human activity/population.

Of course you can. You must change activities to be carbon neutral, but you can maintain the same level of comfort you have today. More than "can maintain", you "must".

If you rely on sacrifice from the whole planetary population in order to tackle climate change, we are doomed. It will never happen, as it goes against the competitive nature of humans.

The correct path is forward: innovate, so that carbon neutral forms of energy and materials are better than carbon-emitting versions. Energy is an almost solved problem, using this vector. Let's attack materials now.


Carbon neutrality is a necessity, as is population reduction. I am not advocating for one over the other. Either alone will not work, not short term certainly not long term.

To be fair; in cattle at least, "shits and giggles" is not an entirely inaccurate description of methane production.

The laughing cows are the worst. But they make a pretty decent cheese.

In some cases consumer demand is the biggest lever we have, it's true. But in this case of a few bad actor landfills, we can fix 95% of the problem in a matter of a few months or years with established solutions.

> You cannot address climate change without drastic long term reduction in human activity/population.

Completely disagree. Reducing waste, recycling waste, and re-using waste are some of the ways to address climate change. Saying modifying human activity/population is the only way to solve a problem is as extreme as saying climate change isn't real.

> No business is out there emitting methane for shits and giggles.

No one says this, you're reducing the broader point to a poor cliff-note. The point is that the incentives for businesses to better address their waste are not there. If all one gets for managing waste responsibly is a higher bill every month and a good feeling in their stomach, why would a proper capitalist businessperson do that in the short term?


We're beyond incentives. We need taxation, aka carbon tax.

My point was that the "capitalist" is not running that production line in isolation, it is the end consumer demand that drives that pipeline. So yes consumer demand is the ultimate source of all this.

Carbon tax is but a first step but it is necessary as it will force the actors to take action. As you correctly pointed out they have no "incentive" to do so right now.


This is demonstrably false, please stop perpetuating it. CO2 emissions are 90% down to tragedy of the commons.

I can have the exactly same lifestyle in Saudi, in USA and in France, yet per capita emissions in France are 3 times lower than those in USA, and 5 times lower than in Saudi.

People in Saudi do not have 5 times better lives. In fact a huge chunk of the population is an underclass, some work as slaves on construction sites.

Competent management and regulation matters, a lot.


41% of US emissions come from the power industry while in France, where nuclear power is widespread, it's only 13% from power. But very rarely do I hear calls from people who care about this stuff call for switching the nation's energy to nuclear.

https://www.worldometers.info/co2-emissions/us-co2-emissions...

https://www.worldometers.info/co2-emissions/france-co2-emiss...


Here we go with the nuclear debate again. Frankly, I'm against how the US/UK handle nuclear as a decentralized, privatized business. If we could have the French model for nuclear (and I know it's not perfect either), I'd be much more in favor. Also French high speed rail, let them take over and give us TGVs.

Of course this doesn't work for the US, because French nuclear (and HSR) depend on their dirigiste government--which has totally different assumptions about distribution of political power.

Edited to add: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dirigisme

with the following quote: "...marked by volontarisme, the belief that difficulties (e.g. postwar devastation, lack of natural resources) could be overcome through willpower and ingenuity. For instance, following the 1973 energy crisis, the saying "In France we don't have oil, but we have ideas" was coined. Volontarisme emphasized modernization, resulting in a variety of ambitious state plans. Examples of this trend include the extensive use of nuclear energy (close to 80% of French electrical consumption), the Minitel, an early online system for the masses, and the TGV, a high-speed rail network."


Every discussion of energy I've ever seen has had a large portion of people making pro nuclear comments.

Because that's the transition power that has the math and history to back it. Its window is closing though. It would have made a ton of sense in the 80s or 90s but the antinuclear have won: we stayed 40 more years in the fuel economy until renewables matured enough to be a credible alternative.

We are not there yet though: intermittence (and to some extent construction speed) still favor nuclear power but maybe not for that long.


The Democrat Party Platform of 2016 does not mention nuclear energy once. It does tout solar and wind several times in a whole section on reducing carbon emissions.

https://democrats.org/where-we-stand/party-platform/

If you asked the typical person who's extremely concerned about climate change where we should invest money, they'll answer wind and solar far more likely than nuclear. There are people who advocate for nuclear as the solution, sure, but they're in the minority. Often they're people who don't seem especially concerned about climate change.


You can see similar factors of difference in carbon intensity between US States. Generally the ones I'd want to live in are doing much better.

In Australia, when they briefly brought in a carbon tax, a dairy that complained before it was introduced, started capturing their methane and using it for power and installed solar. They ended up thinking it was a good thing just as it was repealed.


France emits close to zero for electricity production but nevertheless the "American way of life" in itself is a major cause of the huge footprint the US have per capita. It's not only emissions but consumptions of all resources in general.

Nothing you've said contradicts my assertion that consumer demand drives production, which causes emissions.

Nothing that I've said contradicts your point that management and regulation matter.

You're subscribing to an either/or dichotomy which is false. Consumers demand drives emission. The fix is to enforce heavy regulation on the producers which will ultimately result in lower demand through increased cost.

CO2 emissions are only ONE of the environmental challenges we're dealing with. We're resource bound in other ways, and regular ol' pollution of the environment is a huge concern which sometimes run contrary to CO2 emission. Meaning you can have a technology that reduces CO2 emission in production, so you consume more and throw away more. That is good for climate change but still bad for the planet.


Could you explain why this is relevant? This article is talking about methane emission.

I think it would be more precise to say they are influenced by consumer demand. Consumers consume from landfills, dairy farms, and natural gas facilities, but they do not control them.

It is true that as a consumer, I can try to regulate my demand to reflect how I feel about those facilities' emissions.

At the time time, saying that consumers control those facilities seems to imply that the owners and operators bear no responsiblity for their emissions and are not empowered to change them.


I do hope they are consuming from landfills, otherwise you might have more pressing issues ^ ^

As a consumer, I don't get to pick which landfill my crap goes to. And even if I did, it would be one of fifty million micro-decisions that I, quite frankly don't have the time to make, or have the knowledge to make well.

Instead, the industry should make these decisions for me. It already does, by deciding which products to build, and how. Set tariffs, taxes, penalties, and let producers figure out how to most optimally make money in that environment. That's their core expertise - it's not my core expertise.

We don't expect consumers to be medical experts. We have doctors for that. Why should we expect consumers to also be experts in the long tail of 'various ways that producers screw up our environment'?


That's true, but perhaps the emissions can be mitigated in a targeted way beyond just reducing demand.

Not really possible. Ultimately it is human demand that is driving climate change. Even if you have a magical technology that cuts all emissions today by 25% -- which would be truly magic -- you only need a 25% growth* in population to offset that and put us back to square one.

At the current rate of 1.2% that's only ~18 years.


The comment you replied to said 'mitigated', not 'solved'. Emissions controls already have, and still can, make enormous impacts on many consumer devices.

Given that emission controls are a whole lot easier to implement than eliminating a huge portion of the world's population, I'd say it's a more realistic goal to pursue.


I wouldn't claim it's difficult per se, we've done it before.

But I do suggest people advocating it join the front of the queue.


(Just because this is hn...)

You'd need a 33% growth in population to offset a 25% reduction in pollution, 100% growth to offset a 50% reduction, and so on.


For example, "urban" water use in California accounts for 8-11%. I believe "urban" is both residential and industrial use combined. However, most of the pressure seems to be in reducing residential use--the goal during the last drought was to reduce residential use by 25%...which would account for at most 2% of the water consumed. Approaches included things like not giving you water at a restaurant unless you asked for it.

Of course all water use (like pollution) is driven by consumer demand, but the point is a lot of effort seems to be spent on silly things that have little impact when there are much easier targets.

Caveat: the water situation is a lot more complex than I laid it out here.

https://www.ppic.org/publication/water-use-in-california/


This is basic tragedy of the commons (or "n-person prisoners' dilemma").

If I consume 50% less dairy products, for instance, it will cause a noticeable negative impact on my life.

The impact it will have on the environment will not be at all noticeable. (and it wouldn't be noticeable if it were multiplied by tens of thousands)

It isn't realistic to expect change by relying on consumers to negatively impact themselves for some unmeasurable positive.

On the other hand, it is not at all unrealistic to have those same consumers vote for regulation. The amount it increases the cost of dairy products would likely be outweighed by the positive impact on the environment. It works because the impact of action on themselves, both negative and positive, are divided up by all the people.


Landfills can be capped and farmed for methane, dairy farms can also be capped and farmed for methane, usually to fuel the farm itself as I have personally seen done, and natural gas facilities could capture a lot of their emissions if they were willing to spend a few extra pennies. Those are all solved problems, but we let profits dictate which technologies we utilize.

They can also be directly affected by regulations. Unless you know a way of robustly managing severe negative externalities without regulation?

Regulation is one way of doing it. It has also been suggested that worker owned and managed businesses would more naturally self regulate to meet the needs of the community. Having a few highly privileged people at the top of the company to make decisions means that they have different interests from most of us (very high profit opportunity and a much wealthier way of life that would insulate them from pollution). So it has been suggested that if you stop making companies with a privileged minority at the top, you’d eliminate a lot of anti social behavior.

influenced by consumer demand and legislation, controlled explicitly by their owners

>Maybe California should do a few more of these flights before finding something else to ban?

I don't see why these two can't be done in parallel.


In Norway we place plastic over the (food) landfill, gather the methane and use it for electricity production. When there is no more methane the same landfill is used as soil for food production.

The US does the same... sometimes.

Some states(US) cap landfills with large sheets of plastic (the new ones have plastic on the bottom, making a "giant bag") and punch holes for venting methane and other exhaust gasses. They vent because the gas is flammable and having it build up under a sheet of plastic is risky. Landfills catch on fire frequently. [2]

Some sites collect the gas and burn it, but it isn't common.

You can see the venting tubes on this photo of liner repair after lightning strike...[1]

[1]https://comanco.com/blog/comanco-makes-liner-repairs-on-clos...

[2]http://www.mowastecoalition.org/resources/Documents/2018%20c...


I think (hope) GP means landfills with biological waste only, generating methane in lieu of composting. I wouldn't want to grow food on our mixed use landfills.

California has quite a few composting landfills. So GP is calling for the same technology that's already used in parts of California, perhaps covering more people than the entire population of Norway (5.4 million people)

Map of composting facilities in California: https://www.biocycle.net/2018/03/12/california-composting/


Composting is aerated, generates soil and CO₂, not methane. Anaerobic digestion generates methane and soil, though AFAIK of a lesser quality. Per article, California does have AD facilities, though doesn't mention composting/AD ratio.

We can speculate what punnerud meant, but I would point out that Norway has some kind of a landfill ban. IIUC, they have (almost) no classical mixed-use landfills, and nearly all landfilled organic waste is actually in an anaerobic digestion or composting "facility".


>punch holes for venting methane

Why is parent comment saying Norway captures the methane for electricity generation while you're going we need to vent the methane because it's dangerous.

Same gas. Same landfill setup (by the sounds of it).

...why is the conclusion so different?

Does methane work differently in Norway?


Landfills burn it when they aren't equipped to power a generator with it. This also reduces the greenhouse gas impact, as the combustion byproduct is mostly plain CO2 and water. CO2 is also a greenhouse gas, but not as bad as methane.

Either way, it has to be collected and burned off.


I interned for a landfill gas capture company a long time ago. Apparently it’s quite tough to make payback on the investment.

If value is applied to the degradation and GHG abatement, some groups might find it worthwhile.


In this case it sounds like something that could be subsidized by the government if it provides a net benefit to the general populace (by reducing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere).

Flaring it early would produce most of the GHG reduction benefit. The resulting CO2 has a tiny fraction of the total warming potential of the unburned CH3. For cases where it isn't economical to recover the methane, the public still benefits.

Most of the GHG reduction benefit in terms of the GHG contribution of the methane itself. However, there is also the benefit of the fossil fuel combustion that is displaced if you collect and burn for power. This is exactly the sort of thing that a carbon tax would incentivize if it were at all economically sensible.

So long as there's a positive carbon return on adding the extra infrastructure.

There very well may be, but adding pipes to burn off excess methane is way easier than generating and transporting electricity.


Another argument for a comprehensive GHG emissions tax...

Taxes aren’t the solution to everything. Just causing prices to rise has a lot on unintended consequences. If you raise taxes on a bakery and it has to shut down, you just lost jobs as well as a source of bread, this making bread more expensive which hits hard for those people that now no longer have jobs.

If you eliminated all gasoline cars tomorrow, there isn’t enough infrastructure to support electrics. When cars first came out, you didn’t have to convince people to use them by taxing horses: cars were more efficient than horses.

You don’t have to artificially make something worse to encourage something better. The something better should just naturally be better, making a switch obvious.

If you use energy efficient appliances, you save money on your utilities. Given the same quality, more efficient (and lower cost) is always preferred and a rational actor will choose the lower cost option that solves his need at the level he wants it solved.

That “green” stuff is more expensive is an engineering problem. If someone develops an electric car that costs the same or less than an ICE car and has the same or better performance and quality, people will naturally buy them — and the company that can do that stands to win big. But making everything else worse/more expensive to prop up tech that isn’t as good or affordable is trading what’s best for the individual for what’s best for the owners/employees of the less efficient producer.

I am in favor of government funded basic science, research, innovation (it brought us NASA after all,) however I oppose funding that by the selective targeting of industries in order to artificially boost the viability of a new tech. We didn’t have to kill horses to get people into cars. We won’t have to kill ICE cars to get people into better alternatives. We are already producing less CO2 emissions and the relevant tech is already getting cheaper and better. The market is slowly working and it didn’t take a tax to do it. And when it comes to markets, slow is good; it minimizes the negative effects of economic reallocation.


Taxes are a way for the market to price in externalities that aren’t effectively captured otherwise like the climatic impact of GHG emissions. To not capture this amounts to a subsidy paid by non-polluting industries to polluting ones. It corrects an imbalance.

The way carbon tax is implemented in Canada is to return the tax to folks at the end of the year, keeping none of it, but correcting that imbalance.


> If you eliminated all gasoline cars tomorrow...

A carbon tax would not eliminate all petrol cars tomorrow, would it? It would increase the price of fuel, which would encourage some to make their next vehicle an EV in place of ICE. It would inevitably encourage cities and petrol stations to add EV infrastructure too.

Not entirely sure how the US taxes vehicles, but personally I would put some combination of fuel (carbon) tax, increasing monthly well in excess of inflation and a vehicle tax that cost some combination of vehicle weight and emissions. The combination effect of which would be to discourage ICE, pickups and 4x4s whilst encouraging smaller EVs.


Clearly increasing gas taxes doesn't eliminate petrol vehicles, because I've been to Europe (where gas prices are radically higher than the US — +50-100%) and they still have cars there. Yes, the incentives structure means those cars are smaller, lighter, and more efficient — and in many countries, increasingly electric — and that's a good outcome / example of how taxes apply positive pressure.

Can they sell the captured methane in the greenhouse gas markets?

That sounds very efficient. In the US organic and non-organic "kitchen" waste is often combined. While it is becoming more common to separate compostable materials from others it is still more of an exception.

Many landfills do harvest methane from the combined heap of trash. However, after methane production ends we are still left with compost with tons of plastic.


You can think of the plastic as sequestered carbon!

Until it starts burning, or should I say smoldering. Then you can think of it as a multi-ton slow-release toxic gas grenade.

Volatile Organic Compounds. Hey, it says "organic" right in the name. It must be good for the environment.

Sure, if you forget the fact that it used to be much much more "sequestered" before we spent energy extracting those hydrocarbons. Not to mention that the plastic will eventually erode into the oceans since it isn't buried deep enough. Kinda like a time release pill, except for microplastic pollution.

Typical Japanese household trash separation and disposal rules (pdf link): http://www.city.nagoya.jp/en/cmsfiles/contents/0000022/22536...

Compost can be used, plastic can be reused, no?

But when they're mixed together neither can be easily used, and separating them at that point is difficult.

That's a great idea, but also requires an organized garbage collection system where items are separated at the source (consumer). Unfortunately the US doesn't have such a system in place, which is partially a social issue.

It's very common in the bay area to put biodegradable compost (paper towels, food waste, pumpkins, etc.) into the third green bin, along with the yard waste. The other two bins are for recycling and other garbage. It's not very difficult to segregate compostables, and I'm confident the rest of the US will catch up soon.

The UK came up with an even more ridiculous system. Many regions were nicely moving to a system with separated organic waste - kitchen scraps, garden waste and so on, which were composted. Tory party austerity meant many regions have subsequently scrapped, or charge homeowners for the organic waste collection.

Overall result is many homeowners now have a plastic wheelie bin they never use any more, and organic waste goes in the landfill bin. Putting us in a worse place than before we started.

Tory party is busy promoting how environmental they are in their electioneering ...


And a lot of the UK landfill is shipped to Norway (OSLO/Klemetsrud) because we don’t have enough waste to burn. The heat is used to generate electricity and heat most buildings in Oslo, both industry and homes.

(This was new to me until I talked with one of the managers at the plant one year ago)


Yes, same in Portland, OR. In our case we're incentivized by having compost and recycling pick ups weekly, but garbage only every other week. So people who choose not to sort suffer...

We have something similar here -- everyone gets a giant recycling and compost bin, but you pay for the trash bin, and bigger costs more. The problem is that it just leads people to put non recyclable things in the recycling bin. You wind up with a bunch contaminated mixed waste that just gets sent to the landfill anyhow because China won't take this low quality mixed stream anymore.

When you read the rules for what you're allowed to put in that recycling bin, its a tiny fraction of your actual waste. That, combined with the fact that not everyone putting waste from your house into those bins is going to read the rules, is why it all gets contaminated. I keep feeling, more and more, that the whole notion that we can actually reduce "trash" by adding more and more narrowly-defined recycling/composting categories is nothing but a load of BS.

This is what my neighbors in the Bay Area do. They just don’t care. A better solution would be to reduce waste by banning single use plastic, taxing non-organic packaging (more-so than now), and taxing consumer goods on some combination of weight, volume, non-organic content, and toxic content. None of this is particularly popular, especially in certain communities.

That's a genius approach, and one that I think would be pretty reasonable to most folks. Fairly often I don't put out the gray trash bin because it's not even half full, and I'm pretty sure I'm not alone.

Oh, and I was there when they made that switch, and you wouldn't believe the complaints people had. Endless litanies about how awful it was that trash was only going out once every two weeks. In time, of course, everyone adapted. But it was pretty amazing at the time, for such a relatively painless change in behavior. You'd think they were being asked to cut off a limb and put it out every week.

It also serves as an incentive, if you have a small yard or even some potted plants, that the city will deliver compost every month for resident to collect.

We have sort at the source in Mountain View, CA and across the Bay Area. I don’t personally care about going into great detail separating minutiae. I have better things to do. Recology (the company that handles waste for much of the Bay Area,) has a billion dollars in revenue and a no-bid contract with San Francisco, let them figure it out. They make a profit that’s twice the industry average and as an ESOP, they avoid most corporate income taxes. The president of Recology even said that competitive bidding would put him out of business. I dutifully put my plastics and cardboard into the correct bin, but I’m not going to go out of my way to help some private company making money hand over fist with a corrupt sweetheart deal with the city: a no-bid, no franchise fee deal with San Francisco in perpetuity. They want the money, they can sort the f!$@ing garbage.

https://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/10/us/10bcstevens.html?_r=0


> "I don’t personally care about going into great detail separating minutiae. I have better things to do."

As other comments in this thread have pointed out, people are resistant to "fixing" their waste stream. I think this is a serious lack of personal responsibility. There is nothing about consumption that absolves the consumer of proper disposal. Sure, we want local government to make it as easy and efficient as possible, but best practices are leaning toward sorting, and I think every person has to step up to the practice.


This is a reason to be furious about lack of public oversight over budget, not recycling. Proper recycling still is our (yours too) duty to the planet and it doesn't cost you any money.

> In Norway we place plastic over the (food) landfill, gather the methane

That is also common for US landfills.


How is the land not contaminated with chemicals, poisons, etc? Do they test for all of that?

Landfill gas to power used to be more prevalent, but an AQMD rule change to reduce NOx made them switch to flaring instead because it couldn't compete against subsidized renewables.

http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-methane-gas-co...


I believe it is mandatory to capture it, and either find a use for it (electricity or heat, or both), or you must flare it.

Some very smart friends of mine do this with airplanes to find leaks in natural gas plants and pipelines: http://kairosaerospace.com/

Here's a talk one of their guys did at the last US PyCon that described how they collected the data using airplanes then analyzed it. They sell the service to oil companies to identify leaks from capped wells.

https://pyvideo.org/pycon-us-2019/fighting-climate-change-wi...


Their wing strut mounting of that sensor pod causes me a lot of concern... I don't think Cessna ever expected crazy torque loads on strut meant for tension.

In the PyCon video (link posted elsewhere), a questioner asked if they had thought of making the pod able to be controlled during banking to keep the data from being tainted with outlier values. The speaker described that FAA rules determine what can be attached to the airplane so it was better to make the pod dumb and fix the data in post processing. Presumably they built the pod as light as possible to fit under FAA regs.

I'm not sure there is a weight regulation beyond the general guidelines provided by the manufacture which probably don't cover major alterations like this. Its probably more like what they could get the local A&P to sign off on. Part 43 (https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/14/part-43) is mostly about how the alterations are to be made than dealing with the specifics of the alternation.

Beyond that, its likely is a permanent mark against the air-frame which makes it basically impossible to resell. Including the fact it might have added an additional inspection interval at the strut attachment points. Might even have ended up as an experimental cert due to not conforming to the type any longer.

Also, i'm not so sure there is a lot of formal engineering going into a mod like this on a GA plane. More likely someone has a rough set of parameters for air-frame shear/etc stress and a quick calculation said that the additional stress at 120MPH and landing shock was a small percentage of the total.


I have a cousin that works building fire fighting water bombers. The planes were never engineered for that application as well. They are literally taking these planes and gutting them, add giant pumps and plumbing and other devices some of it literally off the shelves of stores any one of us could use. These devices were never made "for air plane application". But they ultimately have an engineer who decides what is safe and signs off on the design. I have no doubt that this company either has the same or paid the price to have that pod engineered on to the existing limits of the plane.

This project is also using aircraft: https://avirisng.jpl.nasa.gov/index.html

Yes, AVIRIS is the instrument that was used to take the data for that paper. Same group.

The most interesting sentence isn't the headline, but rather:

> Landfills accounted for 41% of the source emissions it identified, manure management 26% and oil and gas operations 26%.

i.e. perhaps the best reason to recycle or compost is to avoid the methane emissions from natural decomposition.


Compost IS natural decomposition, my dude.

True, but it's an aerobic decomposition that produces CO2. Landfills tend to create anaerobic environments, where decomposition produces methane. Both are greenhouse gases, yes, but methane is the more potent of the two.

A composting operation could potentially capture its gasses though, compared to landfills.

There are landfills that capture methane too. Some even turn it into onsite power source (in which case it’s re-emitted as co2 but oh well)

It's still good news, since methane is a more potent greenhouse gas - depending upon the timeframe and calculation method it's generally reckoned to have between 30 and 100 times the warming potential of C02 [1]. Moreover a power station then has a CO2-rich exhaust stream, which is probably the best place for industrial carbon capture.

[1] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-bad-of-a-gree...


Sunnyvale does this! The "Sunnyvale Materials Recovery and Transfer Station" (SMaRT Station) is out by the bay, and there is a waste water treatment plant right next door. Methane is captured from "capped" landfills and is used to power the treatment plant. I believe the plant is nearly 100% powered by these captured gases.

Doesn't smell great over there, but it sure is interesting and pretty smart!


sure, but at least the compost doesn’t go to waste :)

Only in the same sense that farming is "natural" - we're using biological processes that would never happen without our careful construction and maintenance of the circumstances.

> i.e. perhaps the best reason to recycle or compost is to avoid the methane emissions from natural decomposition.

Uhhh, I think you may want to rethink that. Rotting things, whether in a landfill or in your ecologically principled compost heap in your back yard releases methane.


Methane is produced by anaerobic decomposition; composting is defined by the regular aeration (and sometimes watering) of the compost pile, which allows aerobic bacteria to break down the pile more cleanly. You do still get some GHGs, but much less.

See:

https://www.agric.wa.gov.au/climate-change/composting-avoid-...

https://ww3.arb.ca.gov/cc/compost/compost.htm


Your own references point out that aerobic and anaerobic composting are different processes; the latter, which is most of backyard composting (if your heap ain't hot, it ain't aerobic), produces about as much methane as a landfill does, without the ability to collect and burn off the methane.

It boggles me that people emotionally or tribally react to a fact about how chemistry works, google things which support their emotional reaction, and ... don't read what was in their citation.


The first reference does not refer to anaerobic methods as "composting", but as fermentation:

> Decomposing organic material in anaerobic conditions — by microbes in the absence of oxygen — releases methane into the atmosphere. Anaerobic fermentation is common in landfill and open stockpiles such as manure piles [azernik: Manure piles are the second big contributor to methane emissions listed in OP.]

The second one just refers to "anaerobic decomposition".

In both cases this is something they mention as the alternative to composting, i.e. they literally define composting by its use of aerobic decomposition methods.

And yes, I agree that this is a complicated biochemical process that should be done by professionals in dedicated facilities (EDIT: which is where most composting happens in California), not in people's backyards. Where did you hear me arguing for amateur backyard piles?


most backyard heaps are hot, it's actually not hard to do

That sounds like the sort of thing that could be fixed by educational material.

A little methane from the back yard is still better than landfill. But the math for commercial composting vs amateur might need some scrutiny. Transport to the composting facility should also be part of the arithmetic there.


Is most composting done in the backyard? I never even considered composting until I moved to California where the government handles it for me

Worth noting / just pointing out : one common approach to orchard composting [which influences some backyard operations] is to avoid turning it in an effort to 1) promote fungal development and 2) save labor/money

Yeah methane is released inside a compost pile but some of it is consumed by the compost pile by other reactions. That is literally the point of a compost pile versus just a pile of garbage.

Still waiting on Elon Musk to make "WasteX" which will take vast amounts of garbage from landfills and fly it directly into the Sun.

My friend and I were seriously thinking this was a good idea until we read an article [0] destroying it completely. Lol

0:"Here's Why We Can't Just Throw Our Garbage Into the Sun" https://www.popularmechanics.com/space/a19666/we-cant-just-t...


Another explanation[1] that shows how it's not just the cost of escaping Earth gravity (which is high enough already) but the delta-v required to de-orbit. It's easier to throw the garbage out of the solar system than it is to descend into the Sun.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LHvR1fRTW8g


It would be much less costly to just throw it all at Venus. b^)

Thank you for this link! I always assumed it would be ridiculous, and the fact someone broke it down is awesome!

The state of the art high tech proposal is to grind everything to a powder, put that in a high temperature plasma furnace for demolecularization, then extract raw materials for reuse. This kind of process would in theory result in waste dumps being seen as excellent competitive sources of materials such as gold and rare earth elements.

Turns out, it is very hard to get to the sun.

That idea reminds me of Patrick Star's solution to escape the terror of the Alaskan Bull Worm (Take X and push it somewhere else).

Wouldn’t composting have the same issue as tossing it in the dump though?

Landfills are actually better, in that in many cases commercial operators can recover the gas and turn it into renewable fuel.

There are now a few startups trying to make home/DIY anaerobic digesters that you can collect the gas from. Would be interesting for e.g. keeping a greenhouse warm year-round without the electricity spend.

For example (I have no idea how competent the product is): https://www.homebiogas.com/Products/HomeBiogas2


Put a compost pile inside your greenhouse and you get warmth and CO2 for your plants: https://www.lowtechmagazine.com/2015/12/reinventing-the-gree...

This is of no use in the developed world for a normal house. Try getting your home owners insurance to pay off a claim against an accident involving this. Also, according to its specs you can get 2hrs of cooking per day if you supply 5 gallons of animal manure. That's a tiny amount of energy compared to modern energy needs.

For most people this would be a novelty, maybe you could run an outdoor grill off of it.


I'm sure most families can gather 5 gallons of organic waste per week, which would provide them enough gas to have a BBQ once a week.

In a landfill, only anaerobic bacteria can survive. These are unable to break down organic material as cleanly as the aerobic bacteria in a managed compost pile. See my comment at https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21483584 for links to sources.

Aerobic vs anaerobic decomposition produces different byproducts.

Manure is pretty manageable, transportable, etc., are they can they use this to produce energy rather than just let it dissipate into the atmos?

They can; this is generally referred to as "biogas" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biogas). It's equivalent to Carbon Capture and Storage, but for all of these methane releases. It's only used on a relatively small scale in rural areas, mainly to save money on natural gas (which is also basically just methane) and its related distribution infrastructure; I haven't heard of any successful projects to harvest biogas on the large scales required to really cut down agricultural and landfill emissions. The main challenge seems to be purification, as biogas has all kinds of nasty contaminants that are bad for people and machinery.

That sort of undermines some of the carbon arguments used against recycling.

Maybe, maybe not. Some of the things we recycle (metals and plastics) aren't biodegradable and hence won't release methane if dumped in the ground.

272,000 sites surveyed. 0.2% of the sites account for 46% of emissions. 272,000 sites * 0.002 = 544 sites.

544 sites account for 46% of the state's emissions.

Yet the article states, "A handful of operations are responsible for the vast majority of methane emissions."


> 0.2% of the sites account for 46% of emissions.

Sounds like "a handful" to me. In as much as a metaphorical measurement can be accurate..


I think the issue is with using "vast majority" to mean "46%".

Extremely disproportionate, but not a vast majority.


I think the situation is described with reasonable accuracy.

"If it's only 46%, then that's OK then?" Not that you're saying exactly that, but it's pretty close... The article gives 10%/2720 of the 272000 account for >50% of the emissions, that's still pretty bad.

The 0.2% is however good, in the sense that, it's probably easier/more efficient to make a few hundred huge changes instead of a hundred thousand small ones.


is your contention that 46% does not constitute a majority? I think the distribution is pareto enough that the headline is not so crazy.

To be a pedant it might be a plurality (biggest one), but not a majority (>50%)

if it has a pareto distribution, isn't that sort of tautological? If they eliminated all of those those sites, they'd reduce emissions by 46%, but of the remaining, wouldn't the top .2% still be producing roughly 50% of emissions?

It depends on how you define a "handful" (which is a terrible term in that context, we're not talking about hazelnuts..). But for sure 46% isn't "the vast majority" of anything.

Here’s a quick and dirty notebook that uses NASA’s published data to visualize where the ‘Super Emitters’ are located around California:

https://observablehq.com/@jashkenas/californias-methane-supe...


Where is EPA in all this?

Mountain View Shoreline (right behind Google HQ) used to be a landfill site for 3 decades before being turned into a park. Plenty of families visit it for the nature walks, kiddie play areas and water activities. Then few weeks back I heard a bang and hissing; a methane release valve opened https://youtu.be/kq3CnXU5OtU

I don’t know if this is normal for it to be so low but since then I’ve learnt the whole area has these to stop it from combusting. Methane is also a dirty gas that affects cognition.

Add to this the SuperFund sites water & land pollution and one has to question what the heck is going on here.

It gives a whole new perspective on how we are killing our earth hoping the problem will be solved by someone else in the future :(


Almost feels like running a code profiler to find the hotspots


I feel like this is brought up every time a minority number is responsible for a majority number, regardless of how far off 80/20 it is. That seems silly.

> The report doesn’t identify these “super emitters,” but notes that landfills give off more methane than any other source in the state. NASA’s equipment found that a subset of these landfills were the largest emitters in California and exhibited “persistent anomalous activity.”

Is the problem here that the trash is breaking down, or it's breaking down in a suboptimal way (such as anaerobic activity) that's causing methane to be released instead of a more benign gas?


We really need automated continuous monitoring and alerting of these things. It doesn't take much time for an event to release huge quantities of what was thought to be contained gas into the atmosphere.

I'm surprised to not see any reference to the Aliso Canyon leak in this thread yet:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aliso_Canyon_gas_leak


There's also currently a push by many countries to have carbon monitoring satellites above their countries.

For example: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/meet-the-satellit...


So what can be done about landfills? Burying stuff seems expensive/energy intensive.

Many European countries (Germany, Sweden, Norway, etc) don't allow landfills for common household trash. The solution obviously has many facets. Mostly it breaks down to waste separation (e.g. different bins for plastics, compost and paper that are emptied for free, with high fees for the rest to encourage people to separate), recycling what you can and burning the rest. Burning trash produces energy and you can deal with produced gases at one central location, what's left after burning is easy to landfill because it's much less volume and basically doesn't decompose.

The result of what's incinerated is often used for construction, like for road bases. So it's turned into a valuable material instead of being wasted.

Many landfills [0] now recover the methane, and treat it, or burn it in generators to create power. They can sell the power, and change the methane to carbon dioxide (which is less of a greenhouse gas)

In Madison, WI, [1] they create enough power to offset all the energy the county operations use, plus create CNG for their heavy equipment at the landfill to run on.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Landfill_gas_utilization

[1] https://isthmus.com/news/news/dane-county-might-sell-the-met...


Wow this is a great idea. Combined with methane fixing microbacteria like M. capsulatus you could generate animal feed from trash! :0

https://www.fishfarmingexpert.com/article/making-a-meal-out-...


You can burn the garbage for energy instead. Then you don't need as much oil from the ground.

It also takes care of the plastic problem, since it burns the plastic very cleanly.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plasma_gasification is slightly better than incineration, although more costly to implement.

Not sure how effective it is, but it's possible to collect methane from landfill and use it to generate heat and electricity. From my understanding the emission from burning it are way better then just letting it leak into the air.

My university had a big methane line run from a landfill 2 towns over and used it in the cogen plant to generate power and steam for heat.


It's not that much. People do landfills all over the world without much economic impact.

And you can recover the methane from them, what requires a small investment, and has a low, but positive ROI.


Diverting compostable material to an industrial compost operation is one option that can save money on building new landfills. Another is just good landfill design that ensures good drainage & aeration, which is a well understood problem but probably not always done well.

I believe some landfills and dairies capture methane. If there were a GHG pollution tax, they could save a lot of $ capturing excess waste methane. As is, I wonder if it's a neutral or cost saving to capture methane?

Bury the trash deeper, so the methane is effectively sequestered?

this is interesting data... im not a scientist, but what causes the methane from the garbage dumps? rotting organics or just everything in general? is there not a better way to dispose of specific types of trash creating these gases?

Obviously not a small problem to solve. I think if the gov started identifying and fining these emitters, they would invest more into these types of solutions.


So most importantly, how can we follow up and ensure the state works to capture/fine these locations? The article is paywalled, is it likely this will be actively followed up on?

Maybe all of us HN readers should write a note to Gov Newsom?



Are there any composting services in the US? I'm living in Bali right now and I found a local service that gives me a bucket, I put all my organic waste into it, and once a week they come to replace it with a clean bucket.

If I wanted, I could request the compost back - but I don't have any use for it and would rather other consumers get a bit extra.

I pay ~$2/mo for the service (Again, Bali prices).


Yes, large and medium sized cities in California mostly have them.

Great example of gathering and using data to effect change.

The following says that methane is not an important greenhouse gas:

http://wattsupwiththat.com/2014/04/11/methane-the-irrelevant...

Can someone who knows better tell me if that's good science or not?


A website that quotes Breitbart is a signal that they are not serious about providing accurate scientific information.

OK, let me change my question to:

Some random person told me that the parts of the spectrum that are absorbed by CH4 are already absorbed by H2O, which is way more prevalent, so the CH4 doesn't matter much.

Is that true/valid/scientific?


Nearer the top of the atmosphere, the concentration of H2O is much less, and the argument breaks down, because it’s the top layers that radiate to space. Lower in the troposphere, photons are being absorbed and re-radiated, but not escaping.

In general, this stuff is complicated, and it’s easy for people using “motivated reasoning” to come up with the answer they want. Lots of comments reflecting such misinformation appear on HN — it’s frustrating.

So, listening to random people isn’t such a good idea. Much better to read a report from people who study this stuff, like: https://nca2018.globalchange.gov/, which I recommend to technically interested nonspecialists.

(I eat lunch with one of the co-authors of the technical paper in Nature linked to the OP, the press release is: https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?feature=7535, paper is: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-019-1720-3)


Thank you for a simple, intellectual answer.

Obviously I am not taking in information without skepticism, otherwise I would not have asked the question.

But if I can't read something like that and refute it, then obviously I don't understand the issue very well. The best way to remedy that is to ask (not ignorant silence), so I'm a bit disappointed with the other replies who ridiculed me for asking.


Without a lot of background (some mix of grad school, regular interaction with experts at conferences, reading journal publications) you will be easily misled by motivated reasoning, which is everywhere in this domain. People spend their careers on this stuff. Undergrad physics, chemistry, and earth science is not enough.

Resources like the overview report I linked are critical.


dude. use some critical thinking, please. a quick glance at the contents of that page shows that it is a lunatic fringe right-wing propaganda site.

"@AlGore to launch climate brainwashing campaign for students"

"Asians Better Hope It’s A Trump Win In 2020"

"Fauxcahontas must be dumber than schist"


I didn't see that garbage; reading on mobile. Was just looking at the charts and it seemed like a reasonable argument.

Basically it's saying that the spectrums absorbed by CH4 are already being absorbed by H2O. What part of that is not correct?




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