Tinjum Talks Landfills on Wisconsin Public Radio

Photo of Jim Tinjum
James Tinjum

When you think of life cycles, chances are a butterfly or a tree come to mind. But landfills have life cycles, too, and their deaths can actually help sustain the environment.

James Tinjum, PhD, UW-Madison program director, recently discussed the benefits of landfills’ life cycles on a Wisconsin Public Radio segment, “Life and Death of a Landfill.”

Tinjum teaches a UW-Madison course, “Solid Waste Landfill Design,” which helps engineers, consultants, regulators and practitioners design and maintain landfills. His course draws students from around the nation, and includes a tour of the state-of-the-art Dane County Landfill. Tinjum is also the director for the Sustainable Systems Engineering online master’s program at UW-Madison.

Wisconsin has about 58 active landfills, down from more than 600 in 1990, according to Tinjum. The state has a total of 1,778 closed landfill sites, which are used for things like golf courses, dog parks, solar energy sites, or areas for drone and model airplane training.

When a landfill closes, it enters an active post-closure period of 30 to 40 years. The Department of Natural Resources has specific requirements for developing and post-closure use of the sites, Tinjum said.

Many landfills convert their methane emissions into renewable energy. For example, a Dane County landfill that closed in 1987 continues to produce gas that is recovered and used to heat a nursing home.

Tinjum said a “dream landfill” would convert all of its waste into opportunities for renewable energy. Though this “dream landfill” has yet to be achieved, it’s something that Tinjum and his colleagues work toward.

Dane County Landfill currently uses its biogas for pipeline grade natural gas. A $24 million construction project at the landfill will help county residents get natural gas from their refuse, Tinjum added. Dane County has come a long way with its waste, and he’s looking forward to seeing future innovations.

“Everything that you throw away is potential energy, that’s potential recycle content,” Tinjum said. “I look at it favorably as to what we can do with it.”

For more information, or to listen to Tinjum’s interview, click here.


Related Courses

Solid Waste Landfill Design

March 30, 2020

Related Degrees

Sustainable Systems Engineering

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