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Advantages and Disadvantages of Landfills

Landfills are neither dumps nor just holes in the ground. A basic landfill only involves the covering of solid waste with soil. Landfills are important because they help in reducing the number of landfill gases- methane and carbon dioxide- Mixed up with air, which can be harmful to the earth and living beings.

Large, sophisticated landfills are specially designed sites, trenched into the Earth. Their unique design prevents leachates from reaching and potentially contaminating the water table. Modern landfills are also equipped with sensors to detect landfill gas emissions and leachate content.

Causes of Landfills

  • Population growth and urbanization: Top positions are occupied by Urbanization and population rate which lead to the making of landfills. The more the population, the more the demand and the more waste is being generated and dumped. Plastics and all sorts of toxins are a part of urbanization that need to be taken care of in landfills.
  • Agricultural waste: Arises mainly from farm remains animal manure and worn-out agricultural produce. All these are dumped owing to their highly toxic nature and may contaminate land and water.
  • Solid waste: This is the major contributor to landfills. It includes trash from markets, hotels, houses, public spaces, schools, and malls. Damaged wooden materials, plastics, electronic waste, and medical waste also fall under 'solid waste'. Since most of them are non-degradable and hazardous, their place is inside landfills.
  • Industrial and construction waste: Waste from power plants is included in this, such as manufacturing units, oil refineries, and more. Most of them are biodegradable and add up to fill landfills.

What happens to the waste in a landfill?

Advantages and Disadvantages of Landfills

Trash put in a landfill stays there for a very long time. The content of Oxygen and moisture inside a landfill is very little. Under these conditions, trash breaks down slowly. In fact, landfills are not designed to break down waste materials, merely to bury them. Once space fills up, landfills are usually capped. General trash and hazardous waste materials take different capping systems.

For hazardous waste:

  • Synthetic material is used to cover the waste. This is then topped with two feet of compacted clay.
  • A drainage layer is employed to get rid of liquids and chemicals as the waste breaks down
  • And finally, a layer of dirt or topsoil completed the capping system

For general waste:

  • A solid liner system sits at the bottom of the landfill.
  • Alternate layers of compacted clay and synthetic materials are used to cover the landfill site.
  • And, a final layer of topsoil is added over the clay.

Advantages of Landfills

Landfills are an excellent energy source

When trash accumulates and begins to break down, carbon dioxide and methane are produced. These gases can be taken out, filtered out, and used for energy production. These gases can be taken out, filtered out, and used for energy production. In the United States, landfills serve as the third source of methane production. The landfills in the country also produce approximately 95.6 million of this Carbon (IV)oxide per annum.

Modern landfills are eco- friendly

Older landfills were just open-air dumps for nearly everything but it isn't the case anymore. Thanks to the efforts of environmental experts and conservationists who brought in strict laws, regulations, and standards for landfill sites. Technology is well utilized in the landfills' design; good soil lining and leachate management system ensure no seepage and damage.

Keep cities, towns, and district clean

Any cities that don't have a landfill or when people know there is no efficient waste management system in place, they would simply dump waste in the vacant spots. This is unhealthy for humans and the environment. With properly maintained landfill facilities, local trash will be dealt with locally instead of shifting them to other countries.

Keeps hazardous waste segregated

Recyclable and non-recyclable waste can be dumped separately in landfills. Also, they provide a place to keep more hazardous materials that need to be segregated from the public.

Landfills are cheap

Garbage transport costs could be reduced, as our waste will only have to travel a short distance to landfill. This will also reduce the amount of pollution caused by transporting rubbish.

Landfills support jobs and local businesses

An effective waste management system of any country is a million-dollar activity with every stage needing workforce. More local landfills mean more job opportunities and better living for the locals.

Disadvantage of Landfills

Landfills are partially responsible for climate change

Around 400-500 cubic meters of landfill gas are produced from one tonne of biodegradable waste. Gases like methane and carbon are present and also traces of other gases are present in Landfills. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is 25x more potent than carbon dioxide. Thus, increasing the implications of global warming and climate change.

Methane lights up easily

Methane is a highly inflammable gas. In an enclosed space with poor ventilation, it lights up quite easily and the entire landfill site can be on fire in seconds. The range of air concentrations at which methane becomes explosive is between 5 to 15 percent of the total air volume. Dioxin emissions the fires are also hazardous to the environment, not to mention the damaging effects they have on the underground water layer.

Contaminate soil and water

Although it's not very common for protective membranes of landfills to rupture, it can be devastating when they do. Hazardous chemicals, gases, and toxins seep from landfills, get mixed with soil and groundwater causing soil and water pollution. The infiltrated metals, ammonium, carbons, and other toxins make the soil lose its texture and naturality and kills aquatic flora and fauna.

Landfills affect wildlife

Plants and animals are widely affected by landfills. There are many birds and animals that are dependent on landfills for their food. But by doing so they ingest plastic, aluminum, drywall, and other materials. A study publishes in Science Advances shows white storks modified/ shortened their regular migration and chosen nests in areas close to landfill areas. This is not only detrimental but can be fatal for the birds in the long run.

Accidents can happen

Rain, spontaneous combustion of gases or materials, or excessive waste accumulation makes landfill sites vulnerable to collapses; the damages are deep and almost irreversible. The death toll was 113 when a massive landfill outside Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa collapsed in March 2017. About a month later, the Meethotamulla landfill site in Sri Lanka suffered a massive collapse, destroying 140 houses and taking 30 lives. In February 2020, two workers lost their lives when the Zaldívar landfill site in Spain collapsed.

Landfills affect human health

Studies have been shown that people living near or prolonged exposure to landfills have been linked to cancer, respiratory disorders, and developmental defects in children. Short-term exposures ammonia and hydrogen sulfide in the air can cause eye, nose, and throat irritation as well as asthma. Other reported health complaints include sleeping difficulties, weight loss, and chest pain. Methane and carbon dioxide can affect the availability of oxygen to tissues causing coordination issues, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, and unconsciousness.

How Old Landfills are Used For Today?

Old landfills aren't dead spaces anymore. They are getting a serious makeover in public parks, and wildlife habitats.

Community parks

One of the most popular ways to transform old landfills is to convert them into a public parks. Landfill parks go back to 1916 when the old Rainier Dump in Seattle was turned into the Rainier Playfield, a public sports facility.

Now, there are more than a thousand parks sitting on old trash sites across the world. From green spaces to golf courses to skate parks- the possibilities are endless. Some of the famous names include Washington Park Arboretum; Pulau Semakau Eco-Park, Singapore; Chambers Gully Reserve, Australia; Red Rock Canyon Open Space, Colorado.

Wildlife habitats

Environmental conservationists are voicing out for landfills to be transformed as wildlife habitats. They suggest testing soil profile and water table of the locality to confirm if they can support vegetation and wildlife. One example is the Alliance Landfill in Taylor, Pennsylvania. Native trees and other plant varieties were introduced and over time, many bird and animal species made it their home.


Waste around us needs more attention than ever before. Today's landfills have progressed from a simple pit to meticulously engineered waste management systems. They intend to reduce pollution, control contamination, and protect our health and environment. While we can never rule out contamination risks, landfills are essential to keep the cities clean and healthy as possible.

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