Waste Disposal: Landfills

Waste Disposal: Landfills

Another method of waste disposal is that of landfills. As an individual and as a community we don’t realize the amount of waste that each and every one of us contributes to landfills. We tend to just pack our trash into a bin, roll it to the curb, and let it be taken away by big magical trucks. But hopefully you’ve pondered where this trash is being taken at least once in your lifetime. The answer more often than not is a landfill. Approximately 55% of 220 million tons of waste generated each year in the United States ends up in one of the over 3,500 landfills.landfill 2-28

Landfills, for the most part, are carefully designed structures built into the ground in which trash is isolated from the surrounding environment. A landfill’s main purpose, along with one of its biggest challenges, is to contain the trash so that it doesn’t cause problems in the environment. The bottom liners which are points B & C on the image below, prevents the trash labeled as points I & J, from coming in contact with the outside soil, particularly the groundwater (ICF Incorporated Contract No. 68-W3-0008).

landfill cross cut

landfill cross cut bottom half These are the key instruments used in protecting the outside habitat from the harmful toxins lurking within the confines of landfills. As much as I wish they were, these methods are not fool proof. Toxins still escape through leachate which is usually caused by rainwater filtering down through the landfill and aiding bacteria in the process of decomposition. When this decomposition occurs it dissolves components from the biodegrading waste. This flow of waste can be very toxic due to what is being held in the landfill. Leachate can eventually leak into our soil and ground water. Once this process has occurred it is only a matter of time before the toxins make it into a water system that fosters biodiversity.

Another, if not even more harmful effect of landfills, occurs after they are capped or covered. When a landfill caps certain parts of its facilities one may think the cycle of pollution is over, yet this is far from true. When a landfill is capped there is still a certain amount of moisture inside that continues to degrade the waste, releasing various gases. The two main gases are methane and carbon dioxide. Pipes are set up to release these emissions into the air so they don’t build up underground.


The main source of our nation’s human induced methane emissions is the decomposition of garbage in landfills. According to the global warming potential calculated by the EPA methane is 60 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas (2011). All in all we need to stop the detrimental effects that landfills have on our environment. One of the main ways to do this is by producing less trash, which will inevitably lead to a lesser demand of landfills.



EPA. (2011, March 28). Ozone layer protection. Retrieved from Environmental
Protection Agency website: http://www.epa.gov/ozone/geninfo/gwps.html

ICF Incorporated Contract No. 68-W3-0008. (n.d.). Construction and demolition
waste landfills
. Retrieved from EPA website:


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