Since 2007, Planet Bluegrass has been neutralizing emissions caused by festival travel, electricity, diesel and gas by investing in innovative carbon reduction projects. In 2014, Planet Bluegrass chose to source its carbon offsets from a local Larimer County Landfill, just north of its headquarters in Lyons, Colorado. This landfill receives municipal and commercial waste from across Larimer County, including the cities of Ft. Collins and Loveland. In total, Planet Bluegrass purchased 2,496 metric tons of carbon offsets from this project.
What are Carbon Offsets?
Carbon offsets are counterbalancing mechanisms that utilize a variety of technologies to prevent greenhouse gases (GHGs) from entering the atmosphere, or to remove GHGs that have already been emitted. These technologies are utilized within a wide spectrum of projects, from forest preservation involving the sequestration of carbon dioxide to the landfill gas capture and flare that is used by the Larimer County Landfill.
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When individuals and organizations purchase carbon offsets for themselves, they take ownership of the environmental benefits of these projects, essentially exchanging their emissions for a reduction in emissions somewhere else. The mechanism works because, in most cases, the volume of GHGs that is reduced or sequestered, or the global warming potential of these emissions, is equal to or greater than the volume produced by the purchaser.
How the Landfill Capture Technology Works
Landfills are a significant source of methane, a virulent form of GHG emissions. As waste decomposes, it produces methane as a byproduct of the processes that break down organic materials, like food [you can help reduce landfill gas emissions by composting!]. This methane is released into the atmosphere. While its lifetime in the atmosphere is short lived, methane traps more heat than carbon dioxide (CO2), and it has an impact on climate change 21 times larger than that of CO2!
The EPA reports that globally, over 60% of total methane emissions come from human activities, and methane is the second most prevalent GHG emitted in the U.S., accounting for about 9% of all GHGs in 2012 (about 18% of this methane comes from landfills). According to scientists at the Colorado-based National Center for Atmospheric Research, a sharp reduction in the amount of methane released into the atmosphere could have a positive change on global warming and sea level rise over the next 30 years.
Across the U.S., landfills are implementing recovery technologies that allow them to capture and flare methane produced at their site, recovering the energy from the gas and using it for other purposes, reducing odor and other hazards associated with landfill gas, and decreasing emissions.
At the Larimer County Landfill and other landfill gas capture sites, the gas is extracted from the landfill by drilling a series of wells into the landfill and connecting these wells to a vacuum system that pulls the methane from the landfill and into a central point where a spark is used to flare the gas. The resulting energy can then be used as a fuel source.
Projects like Larimer County can sell their flared gas in the form of carbon offsets. By inhibiting the landfills’ methane from entering the atmosphere, the project generates environmental benefits that other organizations—like Planet Bluegrass—can then capitalize on, neutralizing their own emissions via a counterbalancing exchange.
The Larimer County project has been in operation since 2009, and destroys about 20,000 metric tons (MT) of methane annually. The project is located in the city of Ft. Collins, just southwest of Horsetooth Reservoir; visitors are welcome.