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Surprising Science

Making Green Cash from Trash

A Belgian company is working on mining landfills to remove raw materials and make energy and building materials out of them, and then redevelop the land.

What’s the Latest Development?

Patrick Laevers, director of Group Machiels, a Belgian waste management company that owns a landill site, has a 20-year plan to excavate the entire expanse, recycling about 45% of its contents, and converting the rest into electricity. Eventually, he hopes to turn the site back to nature. Laevers thinks Houthalen-Hechteren could be the first of many such projects around the world. “We really believe this concept is the future.”

What’s the Big Idea?

The concept of mining landfills has been around for years. In the 1950s, the Israelis took soil enriched with waste and spread it over orchards to improve. And, in the 1980s, some U.S. states farmed landfill material for use in incinerators. But it has taken rising energy prices and higher demand for recyclables to make landfill mining viable for companies like Machiels. That, and government support: key funding for this project is from renewable energy credits.


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