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You Should Know: The Problem with Landfills

Living a low-waste style is something that I made the decision to do because the system of trash generation and treatment in this world just isn’t working anymore. We are producing trash at an unprecedented rate, but shipping it out of sight when we are done with it where it’s out of sight, out of mind. Most people don’t give much consideration to landfills, or what happens to our trash after we put it on the curb, because we aren’t confronted with it. But I think you should know about the problem with landfills.

How do landfills work?

A landfill is essentially a massive hole dug into the ground and lined with plastic. Each day, garbage is added to the hole and covered with compressed soil or other materials to help prevent interaction between the waste and the air.

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Advantages of landfills

Landfills are the oldest and most common form of waste disposal. They are the preferred method of waste treatment because they have fewer costs and manpower requirements than other methods, like incineration and resource recovery.

Disadvantages of landfills

There are many problems that arise from using landfills as the preferred method of waste treatment.

  1. Methane

Methane is a dangerous greenhouse gas that is naturally produced from the decomposition of waste. This gas is what gives landfills their “trash smell”. Landfills emit high levels of methane gas that can travel for miles through the surrounding air.

Modern landfills have realized the opportunity to capture and utilize the methane gas; however, only some of the methane is captured by the gas utilization systems over the course of a landfill’s lifetime.

2. Leachate 

Landfills also contaminate water sources by leaking a substance called “leachate” into the groundwater. Leachate is created when water mixes with the waste and creates a toxic liquid that pools at the bottom of the landfill.

Modern landfills insert pipes to collect this liquid and direct it into a collection tank. However, these pipes can fail and leachate will leak through the plastic lining of the landfill.

According to the EPA, all landfills will eventually fail and leak leachate into the ground. This contaminates the water supply for surrounding communities and ecosystems.

3. Transportation

Transporting garbage to landfills is a huge operation that produces its own pollution and is very costly for those who utilize it. As we run out of space for landfills, garbage will have to travel further and further to reach its final destination. This will increase the amount of pollution produced and the cost of trash service to homeowners and residents who need to use waste treatment to dispose of their trash.

4. Time

Garbage in landfills takes more time to decompose than you may think. Because of the lack of air and water reaching the waste, it can take much longer to decompose than waste outside of a landfill.

People often defend throwing paper or food waste into the trash because it is biodegradable, however, because of the conditions in landfills decomposition occurs very slowly. In one sample, an old landfill was excavated and 40-year-old newspapers remained unchanged.

  1. Space

Landfills require a lot of space to function. When landfills were first created, open land was abundant. However, the increasing population and volume of waste production is a major concern for the US. Providing space for landfills means destroying forest area to excavate large enough areas. It also means trash will have to travel father distances over time to reach locations suitable for landfills to operate.

The fact is, if we do not take steps to keep the amount of trash we produce as low as possible, in the near future will we not be able to find enough space on earth to dispose of the waste we generate.

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What can we do?

It is more important than ever to keep our trash production as low as possible.

You can easily reduce your waste by recycling, composting, using reusable items, avoiding products with excessive packaging, and limiting how much you buy.

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