Some estimates put the percent of Earth's surface covered by landfills at 0.02%.

Even if the world composted and recycled as much as possible, we would be left with an insanely large amount of waste to break down. We must find a way to deal with waste that cannot decompose in its current environment.

In the very near future, using modern technology, the United Nations proposes the following solution:

Using drones, helicopters, planes, and national militaries, a specific mixture will be spread across as many landfills as possible. If we can cover the Earth with waste in a matter of years, we can cover that waste with a thin layer of liquid in even less time. This process will only be executed in all consenting countries; those skeptical of the procedure will not be obliged to participate.

The mixture will contain (in order of decreasing abundance)

  • Water
  • Moss (spores) to break down solid waste
  • Fungi (spores) to break down solid waste
  • Aerobic bacteria to displace those using methane and make use of the increased oxygen from moss; to decompose organic matter faster
  • Ideonella sakaiensis to break down plastics with increased efficiency
  • Halomonas titanicae to break down metals with increased efficiency

Strains of bacteria may be farmed in vats in large facilities

While some emmissions may result from this mixture, they are hypothesized to be overall less pollusive than the emissions that would result naturally. In a number of decades, this strategy is suggested to be able to reduce our landfills immensely.

So can we actually "paint the world with bacteria" in this way?

Will the substance actually do the job (in a number of years)? If not, what would you change? Is anything in the mixture redundant or unnecessary?

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    $\begingroup$ If you think people don't like the UN now, wait until they spray metal eating bacteria on your car. $\endgroup$ – kingledion Dec 1 '16 at 0:29
  • $\begingroup$ @kingledion The question addresses that. "This process will only be executed in all consenting countries; those skeptical of the procedure will not be obliged to participate." $\endgroup$ – Zxyrra Dec 1 '16 at 0:32
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    $\begingroup$ Hmmm....so you are saying you are going to spray aerosol bacteria on my neighbors property, and none of it will get to my property? $\endgroup$ – kingledion Dec 1 '16 at 0:36
  • $\begingroup$ @kingledion My best answer is that landfills try to reduce the pollution of adjacent areas; perhaps it would just be applied to those with proven barriers in place. Still, that may be a reasonable point for an answer. $\endgroup$ – Zxyrra Dec 1 '16 at 0:38
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    $\begingroup$ The fact that Ideonella sakaiensis can already metabolize PET plastic (soda-bottle plastic) is impressive, since that polymer was only invented in 1941. IMHO evolution can move fast, when the selective pressure is high. That said, lots of people are literally allergic to many fungal spores -- what happens if somebody (who may not even know they have this allergy) gets enough spores to go into anaphalactic shock?? IMHO, mass sprayings are something best approached with extreme caution, in case of dire need. $\endgroup$ – Catalyst Dec 1 '16 at 0:56

Landfills which are properly built are designed to isolate wastes from the surrounding environment, essentially forever. As an interesting note, there is an exhibit in Toronto's "Ontario Science Museum" where a core sample from a landfill is on display in a sealed tube. The exhibition note suggests the material in the tube is decomposing faster than the material still in the landfill.

I don't understand why you would spread this out and then induce various "alien" life forms in an essentially uncontrolled manner (the bacteria might mutate and evolve to eat your car, the reinforcing rods in the concrete bridge and so on).

If the goal is to reduce or eliminate landfills, then the proper response would be to build controlled industrial process sites where waste can be excavated sorted and then placed in reactors to be quickly and efficiently broken down, under ideal circumstances and with control over what does in and what goes out. The bacteria are being fed a concentrated diet of their favourite materials and nothing more, the temperature, humidity, ph balance and whatever other factors they need are controlled closely and the bacteria are under close observation to ensure mutant strains are not arising (the entire vat would be killed and then a new batch of "clean" bacteria is induced to carry on the reduction).

Of course even this is wasteful, since the metals, plastics and so on could probably be more profitably recycled into new products or raw materials. Undifferentiated waste could also be fed into a plasma reactor and solids turned into glass, while organics would become converted into Syngas to power the site and provide electrical energy to export to nearby cities and so on.

This plan could even be instituted by private corporations seeing a profit opportunity if the costs of excavation and waste sorting and recycling or plasma reduction are low enough.

  • $\begingroup$ While I agree that there may be control issues present, economics must be taken into account. Collecting all the waste, building giant, effective incinerators, and storing the resulting emissions costs much, much more than culturing bacteria in one or two locations and then flying drones. $\endgroup$ – Zxyrra Dec 1 '16 at 3:24
  • $\begingroup$ If control issues do arise, those areas can be isolated, and soil can be dealt with by existing waste treatment plants. $\endgroup$ – Zxyrra Dec 1 '16 at 3:25
  • $\begingroup$ @Zxyrra isolating existing landfill might turn out more expensive than building bioreactors. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Dec 1 '16 at 6:09
  • $\begingroup$ @Mołot Even if isolating landfill costs more (which is a different discussion) how many tons must be shoveled into reactors - vs applying the substance without moving the waste itself? $\endgroup$ – Zxyrra Dec 1 '16 at 6:35
  • $\begingroup$ @Zxyrra the same amount. You'd have to mix landfill to get any significant effect... Or, if your bacteria can eat metal and plastic, you need to empty the landfill, change lining to something it can't eat, and fill it again. So, umm... Seems reactors may need only ½ of the showeling. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Dec 1 '16 at 7:11

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