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The decay of wood in landfills in contrasting climates in Australia

Journal article
Authors F. Ximenes
Charlotte Björdal
A. Cowie
M. Barlaz
Published in Waste Management
Volume 41
Pages 101-110
ISSN 0956-053X
Publication year 2015
Published at Department of Conservation
Pages 101-110
Language en
Keywords Wood, Decay, Landfill, Climate, Carbon, Methane,
Subject categories Earth and Related Environmental Sciences


Wood products in landfill are commonly assumed to decay within several decades, returning the carbon contained therein to the atmosphere, with about half the carbon released as methane. However, the rate and extent of decay is not well known, as very few studies have examined the decay of wood products in landfills. This study reports on the findings from landfill excavations conducted in the Australian cities of Sydney and Cairns located in temperate and tropical environments, respectively. The objective of this study was to determine whether burial of the wood in warmer, more tropical conditions in Cairns would result in greater levels of decay than occurs in the temperate environment of Sydney. Wood samples recovered after 16-44 years in landfill were examined through physical, chemical and microscopic analyses, and compared with control samples to determine the carbon loss. There was typically little or no decay in the wood samples analysed from the landfill in Sydney. Although there was significant decay in rainforest wood species excavated from Cairns, decay levels for wood types that were common to both Cairns and Sydney landfills were similar. The current Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2006) default decay factor for organic materials in landfills is 50%. In contrast, the carbon loss determined for Pious radiata recovered from Sydney and Cairns landfills was 7.9% and 4.4%, respectively, and 0% for Agathis sp. This suggests that climate did not influence decay, and that the more extensive levels of decay observed for some wood samples from Cairns indicates that those wood types were more susceptible to biodegradation. Microscopic analyses revealed that most decay patterns observed in samples analysed from Sydney were consistent with aerobic fungal decay. Only a minor portion of the microbial decay was due to erosion bacteria active in anaerobic/near anaerobic environments. The findings of this study strongly suggest that models that adopt current accepted default factors for the decay of wood in landfills greatly overestimate methane emissions. (C) 2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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