Garbage Gas

2.9 based on 14 ratings

Updated on Jan 16, 2013


Physical Science







Safety Issues

None, unless propane/butane is used to simulate the LFG flare.

Material Availability

Moderate. The display can consist of drawings only; a physical display that uses an aquarium filled with dirt, leaves, paper, etc.; or a display with a burning “flare” from a propane canister to simulate an actual LFG flare.

Approximate Time

Hours to weeks to construct


To show how landfills generate various gases, particularly methane, that can be used to generate energy. Simultaneously, demonstrate how potentially toxic and otherwise dangerous gases form and move in landfills, and how these can affect us.


Note: This project can be done entirely with drawings and diagrams, or can be simulated.

  • Clear aquarium
  • Dirt and refuse, real or simulated
  • Single tube/pipe to represent the LFG flare
  • More complex setup to simulate a full LFG generating station (optional)

For advanced students, with permission:

  • Propane gas canister, such as for a cooking stove
  • Burner, such as a Bunsen burner, to simulate an LFG flare
  • Tubing


Organic materials decay. This causes the release of various substances, including gases such as methane. Landfill gas (LFG) can be a problem and a benefit at the same time. When it leaks into the atmosphere, it becomes a noxious greenhouse gas. As it builds inside the landfill, it becomes potentially explosive. In some cases, perforated pipes are used to empty this gas from the landfill and burn it off as a “flare.” In other cases, the methane is captured and burned to generate electricity.


Especially with increasing interest in the environment, illustrations of all kinds are readily available. Many locales have programs that encourage education in this and related fields.

Research Questions

  • What is methane?
  • How is it generated in a landfill?
  • How is it similar to, and dissimilar to, natural gas?


  • Methane: a naturally occurring and flammable gas.
  • Biomass: the term used to define organic waste
  • Greenhouse Gas: any gas in the atmosphere that lets heat in and then tends to keep it in
  • Landfill: where we put garbage, and usually cover it over with dirt


Organic and other materials decompose in the landfill. Natural and chemical reactions occur that generate gases, liquids and even solids. The gases in particular migrate (move) and collect into pockets in much the same way pockets of natural gas develop.

Experimental Procedure

  1. Fill an aquarium with layers of dirt, paper, leaves and other refuse so that the layers can be seen.
  2. “Plant” pipes/tubes to represent vents for the gases that collect beneath
  3. Build a simulated biomass generating station from small boxes and tubes.

For the advanced student, with permission:

  1. Do all the above.
  2. Run a hidden flexible tube under the “landfill.”
  3. Place a Bunsen burner in the “landfill” to represent an LFG flare.
  4. Connect one side of the tube to the Bunsen burner.
  5. Connect the other side of the tube to a canister of propane.
  6. Turn the valve of the canister to allow the flow of gas.
  7. Light, to simulate the burning of LFG.



Gene B. Williams is a freelance writer with 54 published books and thousands of stories and articles. He has been a science teacher and assistant headmaster at a private school, then senior editor for three educational publishers. One of his newest projects is "Nicker Stories," a delightful and humorous collection of stories about a young boy and his sea dragon.

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