Landfills are sites designated for dumping rubbish, garbage, or other types of solid waste. Historically, they are the most common means of disposing of solid waste, involving either the burial of waste or allowing it to accumulate in large mounds.
Their prevalence results from the increased amount of waste from our homes, schools, offices, hospitals, and markets.
While some landfills are well-managed and designed as part of integrated waste management, most communities leave the landfills unattended, causing land pollution and uncontrolled buildup of solid waste materials.
Here are the causes, effects, and solutions to landfills.
According to Wikipedia,
“A landfill site (also known as a tip, dump, rubbish dump, garbage dump or dumping ground and historically as a midden) is a site for the disposal of waste materials by burial and is the oldest form of waste treatment. Historically, landfills have been the most common method of organized waste disposal and remain so in many places around the world.“
Serious Causes of Landfills
Some of the serious causes of landfills involve but are not limited to the following:
1. Solid Waste
Solid waste is the number one contributor to landfill waste disposal. Homes, schools, restaurants, public places, markets, offices, and so on produce a great deal of rubbish, garbage, and used materials.
The bulk of these wastes, which could include wood, paper, plastic, broken furniture, glass, grounded cars, obsolete electronic products, and hospital and market waste, eventually end up in landfills.
And because most of these waste materials are non-biodegradable, they linger in landfills for years. The scenario is even worse for poorly managed waste disposal systems and normally damages the land and the surrounding environment.
2. Agricultural Waste
Agricultural wastes arise from waste materials generated from animal manure and crop and farm remains. Solid wastes like animal manure and other agricultural by-products are collected and dumped in landfills.
3. Industry, Manufacturing, and Construction Waste
Industrial processes, construction activities, and power plants produce a wide range of solid byproducts and residues, eventually finding their way into landfills. Oil refineries, power plants, construction works, pharmaceuticals, and agricultural product producers are the main culprits in this case.
As an illustration, oil refining yields petroleum hydrocarbon byproducts, while construction activities generate waste materials such as wood, plastics, and metals.
Despite the presence of regulations governing industrial manufacturing, power generation, and construction, these byproducts and residues occasionally end up in landfills.
4. Urbanization and Population Growth
Increasing urbanization and population growth rate is considerably accountable for the increased number of landfills worldwide. With the increase in population and urban growth, the demand for manufactured products and materials increases. As the demand increases, so does the increase of solid waste.
In particular, plastic pollution has risen in the first decade of this century due to rapid urbanization and population growth, and most of the used plastic materials end up in landfills. In most urban areas, plastics form the greater part of the landfills and constitute about 80% of all municipal waste.
Drastic Effects of Landfills
Some of the effects of landfills include the following:
1. Air Pollution and Atmospheric Effects
There are more than ten toxic gases emitted from landfills, of which methane gas is the most dangerous and is naturally produced during organic matter decay.
On this account, EPA records that the methane expelled during the decomposition of organic matter in unmanaged landfills has the potential to trap solar radiation 28 times more effectively than carbon dioxide.
When heat-trapping happens, the outcome is increased urban and global temperatures.
Aside from the methane gas, other household and agricultural chemicals that find their way to the landfills, like bleach and ammonia, can generate toxic gases that can greatly impact the air quality within the landfill vicinity. Dust, particulate matter, and other non-chemical contaminates can also be expelled into the atmosphere, further contributing to air quality issues.
2. Groundwater Pollution
The primary environmental problem arising because of landfills is groundwater contamination from leaches. Several hazardous wastes find their way into the landfills, and once they are there, they inevitably cause the natural deterioration of groundwater.
The toxic products in the landfills range from industrial solvents to household cleaners. All these products contain harmful chemicals, while electronic wastes, or e-waste, contain lead, mercury, and cadmium.
A huge percentage of these landfill toxins infiltrate the soil to reach the freshwater waterways, eventually ending up in the domestic water and, sadly enough, the foods we consume. The pollution can also adversely harm animal and plant life. Research reveals that 82% of landfills have leaks.
3. Health Effects
Increases in the risk of severe health implications such as birth defects, low birth weight, and particular cancers have been reported in individuals living next to landfill areas in numerous studies.
For instance, Trichloroethylene (TCE) is a carcinogen often originating from landfill leachate. Other discomforts and self-reported symptoms for people living near landfills include sleepiness, headaches, and fatigue.
The effects are linked to the toxic actions of the chemicals present in landfill wastes. From contamination of the air with harmful gases to water pollution, the outcome is adverse human health effects. Landfill toxic gas releases and water pollution are also associated with lung and heart diseases respectively.
4. Soil and Land Pollution
Landfills directly render the soil and land where it is located unusable. It also destroys the adjacent soil and land area because the toxic chemicals spread over the surrounding soil with time.
The upper layer of the soil is damaged, distorting soil fertility and activity and affecting plant life. Industrial and electronic wastes in the landfills destroy the quality of the soil and land, thereby upsetting the land ecosystems.
5. Economic Costs
The economic and social cost of landfill management is very high. From the management of the gases coming out of the landfills to groundwater contamination management, and ensuring compliance with environmental regulatory policies drains a lot of the municipality’s and tax payer’s money in terms of integrated waste management.
Also, because most of the materials disposed of in landfills take millions of years to decompose, designing effective strategies and facilities for managing landfills requires high capital investments with regard to management and recycling initiatives.
6. Landfill Fires
Landfill gases and a substantial amount of landfill waste can easily start a fire. Once fires are ignited, it can be challenging to put them out, further causing air pollution. If not put out immediately, they can get out of control and destroy the neighboring habitats.
Methane is notably the most flammable and combustible gas in the landfill, and as such, given its abundant supply, it can create havoc. Combustion of the landfill even worsens the situation as the burning of the chemicals adds more chemical load to the area.
Impressive Solutions of Landfills
Some of the steps we can take to solve the current quagmire surrounding landfills include the following:
1. Design and Implementation of Integrated Waste Management
The construction of modern landfills with well-engineered and managed disposal facilities can significantly lessen the impacts of landfills on soil, air, and water.
Landfills that are well-designed and operated in compliance with environmental preservation requirements ultimately ensure the environment is free from contaminants.
Using such designs also ensures the landfills are not located in environmentally sensitive areas and are incorporated with on-site environmental monitoring systems. With on-site environmental monitoring systems, signs of landfill gas and groundwater contamination can be easily detected and controlled.
2. Recycle, Re-use, and Reduce
Landfill management will always remain a major environmental issue if communities don’t embrace the need for recycling, reducing, and reusing. The increased demand for manufactured products increases the final waste products that end up in the landfill.
In this view, recycling systems for electronic wastes, plastics, paper, metal, glass, and other non-biodegradable materials can provide an effective means of reducing the landfill effects.
Reducing our demand for manufactured products and embracing reuse can equally favor reducing the toxicity and volume of waste in landfills. People have no option but to embrace the art of using manufactured products to the end of their useful life.
These can be split into the following simple steps:
- Respect the planet: A deep gratitude and recognition of its beauty, including the interdependence of living and non-living things, will help us exploit the planet positively while giving it time to flourish and rejuvenate.
- Rethink our consumption needs: After huge purchases, we find out that most of the products don’t make us as happy as we thought they would. In going about our life experiences, we should reconsider our consumption habits and also buy what we think is necessary and useful for the betterment of both our well-being and nature.
- Reduce wastage: Spending money on things we don’t need drains our wallets and destroys our environment because of waste accumulation. Only spending on what is needed saves our planet and keeps it environmentally friendly. Furthermore, buying only what’s necessary contributes to a cleaner and more efficient environment since it establishes the need for meaningful production and distribution of manufactured products.
- Reuse products: Reusing the products that we have already bought keeps them away from the landfill. We can buy used items from internet sites like E-bay, second-hand stores, garage sales, or otherwise donate the items that we don’t use.
- Recycle materials: Recycling is one of the best solutions for landfill management. Materials such as plastics, cans, paper, and glass can be recycled.