Effect of plastics on the lignin results for MSW and the fate of lignin in laboratory solid waste reactors
Cellulose to lignin ratio is one of the widely used indicators of degree of landfill stabilization. This ratio shows the amount of carbohydrate or cellulose consumed by anaerobes compared to relatively inert lignin. However, the method of lignin measurement contains an intrinsic error. Plastics are contained in the landfill samples and these are characterized as lignaceous materials due to their acid-insolubility. Lignin is typically measured as the organic residue that is acid insoluble but is combustible upon ignition. Additionally lignin may degrade under anaerobic, high temperature conditions associated with wet conditions in sediments and bioreactor landfills.
In this study, it has been found that the typical measure of lignin, a gravimetric measure, also includes plastics, leading to erroneous measures of both lignin and the cellulose/lignin (C/L) ratio. Typically, 100% of the plastic will be measured as lignin. Since plastic amounts to approximately 10% of landfill contents, lignin measurements will be 10% greater than actual amounts. Laboratory reactors were set up with known amounts of paper and plastic. The degradation of the cellulose and lignin in paper was measured and compared to plastics, which was collected by hand and weighed. Ratios of cellulose to plastics and lignin to plastics were obtained. It was found, based on the cellulose to plastic ratio and lignin to plastic ration that lignin degrades under anaerobic conditions although at a much slower rate than cellulose. These findings indicate that the cellulose to lignin ratio cannot be used as the sole indicator of stabilization in the landfills. The inclusion of the biochemical methane potential test data along with C/L is thought to provide a better indication of landfill stabilization.