The Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste Management Authority (Authority) is one of Google’s long-standing carbon offset project partners and was featured in the 2017 Google Environmental Report: Capturing value from waste in upstate New York for its successful Landfill Gas Project.
The Authority operates the newest landfill in upstate New York, the Oneida-Herkimer Regional Landfill, which serves rural communities with a combined population of 300,000.
The partnership between Google and the Authority goes back to 2010, when Google decided to invest in the Authority’s landfill gas project in its early stages. Included in Google’s report, As organic waste decomposes inside a landfill, it creates methane gas, which is a significant contributor to climate change: methane is 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide and accounts for 16% of global GHG emissions. Landfills in many U.S. states aren’t required to capture or process methane if they don’t reach a certain threshold of emissions, so by voluntarily collecting and destroying it, they can generate carbon offsets.
The Authority wanted to install a network of wells, pipes, and flares to capture and destroy the site’s methane gas. Developing a carbon offset project provided the financial incentive for the initial investment. After vetting the project, Google committed to purchasing all the carbon offsets it would generate. This long-term investment provided the financial certainty the Authority needed to build and begin operating the gas-collection system three years earlier than planned. Since then, the project has eliminated half a million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, generating more than half a million carbon offsets while ensuring the gas is properly handled.
Once a gas-collection system was in place, the Authority could then take further steps to fully utilize this resource. Rather than simply flaring off, or burning, the waste gas, the Authority commissioned a plant to convert it to electricity. This plant now produces enough renewable energy to power more than 3,300 local households and also provides a steady revenue stream to fund additional waste management initiatives for the community.
Revenue from selling carbon offsets has allowed the Authority to continuously expand the gas well field to capture even more methane. The money has also supported the launch and operations of other waste management initiatives, including electronics waste recycling and safe disposal of household hazardous waste. Without the revenue stream catalyzed by the initial gas-collection project, the additional cost for these community programs would have to be borne by local residents and businesses.