Landfills: Consequences and Solutions

If you look up “landfill” several images of decaying waste piles are slowly polluting the earth. In the United States there are over 10,000 old municipal landfills as well as over 3,000 active landfills.

What are Landfills?

Landfills are carefully designed structures built into or on top of the ground in which trash is isolated from the surrounding environments. This isolation is accomplished with a bottom liner and daily covering of soil. A sanitary landfill uses a clay liner to isolate the trash from the environment. A municipal solid waste (MSW) landfill uses a synthetic (plastic) liner to isolate the trash from the environment.

The purpose of a landfill is to bury the trash in such a way that it will be isolated from groundwater, will be kept dry and will not be in contact with air. Under these conditions, trash will not decompose much. A landfill is not like a compost pile, where the purpose is to bury trash in such a way that it will decompose quickly.

Types of Landfills

United States requires that landfills are subject to regulation under Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) Subtitle C (hazardous waste) and Subtitle D (solid waste). Many are subject to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

Subtitle C makes sure that all hazardous waste is handled correctly to protect both the environment and human health. Subtitle C landfills include:

  • Hazardous waste landfills – These are not used for the disposal of solids and are solely focused on the disposal of hazardous substances

Subtitle D targets both local and state governments and how they manage non-hazardous solid waste. This category of landfills consists of:

  • Municipal solid waste landfills – Household and other types of non-hazardous waste
  • Industrial waste landfills – Disposal of industrial and commercial waste
  • Bioreactor landfills – Degrade and transform organic waste
  • Construction and Demolition Debris Landfills – Specifically for the disposal of construction and demolition waste
  • Coal combustion residual landfills – Industrial waste relating to coal ash and coal combustion residuals.

Polychlorinated Biphenyl (PCB) landfills are under the Toxic Substances Control Act, and some decontamination procedures may require EPA approval.

Are Landfills Harmful to the Environment?

Several environmental problems are caused directly by the existence of landfills. Hydro-logical and atmospheric effects. Another rising effect is e-waste seeping dangerous chemicals into our Eco-system.

  • Hydro-logical effects – Large numbers of people discarding chemical and household cleaners in landfills, this is severely toxic. This results in devastating impacts upon both humanity and wildlife.
  • Atmospheric effects – Methane produced by rotting organic matter in landfills is contributing to global warming. Harmful chemicals mixtures in landfills, such as ammonia and bleach produce highly toxic gases which have direct effect on air quality. Other items such as dust and other contaminants found in landfills do not help.

Landfills also cause many other significant environmental issues. Seeping gasses and waste result in fires destroying local habitats and pollute the air. Styrofoam is another common material and it may take as long as one million years to decompose.

E Waste

There is a high demand for electronic appliances and gadgets nowadays. One second there is a model is released then soon after another takes its place. Electronic waste is having a huge impact on our planet.

This type of waste seeps out dangerous substances such as mercury, cadmium, and lead into the environment. This can cause cancers, tumors, and in some cases mental health issues. Recycling of electronics is very important to reduce toxicity levels and also result in less raw materials from being mined.

Alternatives to the Landfill

Zero waste encourages that all products be reused. Followers of this philosophy do not send any trash to incinerators or to landfills.

The Zero Waste International Alliance (ZWIA) definition is:

“Zero Waste is a goal that is ethical, economical, efficient and visionary, to guide people in changing their lifestyles and practices to emulate sustainable natural cycles, where all discarded materials are designed to become resources for others to use.”

Zero Waste implements processes to eliminate the volume and toxicity of waste materials, conserving all resources and not burning them. Zero Waste procedures eliminate toxic discharges to land, water, or air. Zero waste is economical alternative to current traditional waste systems, it is the new environmental friendly manner to reduce toxins.