A Brief Introduction About Landfills

//A Brief Introduction About Landfills

There are hundreds of things that we throw out in our waste bins. A huge truck from a local waste management company shows up daily and transports that waste to someplace mysterious. Ever wonder where does that pile of waste go to? Do we burn them? How do we actually dispose of the waste? Can it be recycled or made to use?

If you have such questions in mind, this is the right place to be at. In this write-up, we will tell you about the landfill, its uses, how it differs from recycling and so many other cool things. So, without any further ado, let’s get down to business…

Landfill Defined:

Let’s start with the definition of landfill

Business dictionary defines landfill as,

“Environmentally acceptable disposal of waste on the ground. Sanitary landfills are where non-hazardous waste is spread in layers, compacted and covered with Earth at the end of each working day. Secured landfills are those where hazardous waste is disposed by burial, in holes or trenches in the ground lined with impervious plastic sheeting to prevent leakage or leaching of dangerous substances in soil or water supply”

The main purpose of any landfill is to dispose of the waste in such a way that it doesn’t contaminate the underground water, is kept dry and doesn’t pollute the air. Unlike a compost pile, trash in landfills is not stored for decomposition.

A landfill is also different from a dump where a huge hole in the ground is used to dump trash. It is not built scientifically and it is just one big hole. As the trash begins to pile up in dumps, it affects the environment and becomes a favorite hideout for various animals like mice, rats, and birds.

How Are Landfills Created?

Modern landfills are created following the 6 mains steps of construction.

Modern Landfill
Bottom liner system: As evident from the name, this is the bottom-most part of a landfill. The purpose of building bottom liner system is to separate trash from contaminating the underground water.
Cells: This is the main body of the landfill which used to store trash. In most modern landfills this is a multi-story area. Puente Hills, one of the largest active landfills in the USA has cells on hundreds of acres.
Drainage system: Rainwater can cause some serious problems for a landfill if not properly planned for. The drainage system will prevent the rainwater and other spills from entering the landfill.
Leachate collection system: Some contaminated water is also leaked through the waste itself. It is called leachate and the collection system used to separate it from the trash is referred to as leachate collection system.
Methane collection system: This system is responsible for collecting the methane gas formed during the breakdown of waste.
Cap: Last but not the least, the landfill is closed properly. This is known as capping or covering.

Types of landfills

Landfills are of three main types…

MSW Landfill: MSW or Municipal Solid Waste Landfill are engineered and monitored by the state. MSW is used to dispose of waste from residential colonies, hotels, etc. The waste may contain both hazardous or non-hazardous waste. Municipal landfill waste follows strict guidelines and rules from the government.

C&D Landfill: C&D landfill (or construction and demolition landfill) refers to landfills that deal particularly with debris created during construction/renovation or demolition of buildings and other architecture.

Typical debris from C&D may include asphalt, concrete, wood, glass, paper, roofing materials and other rubble. Waste from C&D are usually non-hazardous in nature but still governed by strict local laws.

Inert Landfills: Inert landfills usually deal with waste from the earth like leaves, limbs, and stumps. Other Earth-like substances like cured asphalt, rocks, bricks, yard trimmings, etc are also dumped in inert landfills.

Cost of building a landfill

Car battery with green recycle sign.When it comes to building a landfill, there is no “one size, fits all approach”. The size of the landfill, the contractors involved, the price of raw materials, the time frame in which the landfill is expected to be completed, etc can play a major role in the final cost.

To keep this in mind, and give our readers some idea of the figures involved, we have considered the cost of two landfills – one in Europe and the other in Asia.

Xinfeng landfill in China is one of the biggest in the world. It began operation in 2003 and has a useful life of 20 years. Staggering $100 million were spent to build this 227 acres site.

Another landfill in Europe was built at a cost of 24 million Euros.

Check out this post to know more about some of the biggest landfills and waste sites in the world.

What happens when the landfill is full?

Car battery with green recycle sign.Landfills are great but they are not infinite. They are built to hold a certain amount of trash (usually millions of tons of trash) and after that they become un-operational. This is where the authorities come in to play. To deal with an already filled landfill they have a few options available.

It is, in fact, possible to extend the life of an existing landfill. This, of course, requires planning, some extra budget, and proper engineering. By redesigning the slope of a landfill, it can actually be made bigger. This adds more years to its useful life and the ability to engulf more trash. Landfills are usually built away from the residential areas. This allows the owners or authorities to create another landfill adjacent to the existing one.

Another (but least famous) option is incineration. It is a process of burning the trash to get rid of it. It also has many harmful effects on the environment.

This one is pretty sci-fi. It is called plasma technology, which is comparatively a new trend in town. Through plasma tech, the waste is heated to an extremely high temperature. Leaving behind a gas, which can be used for power generation and a lava-like substance, which when cools down can be used as a building material. Sounds easy, no? The only downside to plasma tech (and a big one) is that it is extremely costly.

Once a landfill has served its useful life, the land it is situated on can also be used for other purposes. This, however, is a slow process. Trash in a landfill that has been nicely compacted can take up to 25 years to settle. However, 90% of the trash will settle within 5 years. Once the trash gets settled, the land can be used for other purposes.

Recycling or landfill?

Have to choose one? We’re afraid we can’t. The amount of trash that humans are producing is huge. According to a study, in 2013 Americans produced around 254 million tons of trash. An average American produces about 4.4 pounds of trash per day. These numbers are huge and we need a combination of waste management techniques here – think of the Avengers!

Neither recycling, not landfill can be our savior alone. This is the reason why we have decided to look at them differently and what they can do rather than creating a comparison.

  • Recycling:

    Car battery with green recycle sign.Recycling is one of the most common ways when it comes to trash management. The best thing about our ability to recycle waste is the fact that it has grown better with more trash we are producing. We used to recycle only 10% of solid waste back in 1980. This figure has gone up to 34% (according to 2009 estimate). Composting, which is nature’s own way to recycle trash also contributes to keeping landfills at a little rest. In 2009, composting kept 21 million tons of trash at bay.

    There is more to it. Recycling and composting prevented 178 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere. This is equivalent to taking off 33 million cars off the road in one year.

    Recycling also generates revenue, add more jobs in the system, conserve energy and resources spent on manufacturing and reduces harmful emissions.

    Hats off to recycling and composting!

  • Landfill:

    Car battery with green recycle sign.As recycling becomes more efficient, it lowers the burden on landfills. From 1980 to 2009, we saw a decline of 34% in the waste being dumped in landfills. You see how useful it is for both recycling and landfills to work in tendon?

    All landfills are strictly regulated – they can’t be placed near wetlands, food plains or any residential areas. A well-built landfill is carefully designed keeping in view the contamination is mind. It has many layers (discussed above), each responsible for a different thing. Other than that, scientists regularly take samples of water from the neighboring areas to check for contamination. Any abnormality in the test results may point towards a leak in the nearest landfill.

    A landfill is also regularly checked for atmospheric contamination. The trash trapped inside it produces methane gas, which is 20 times more harmful than carbon dioxide. Any modern landfill will, however, utilize it to produce energy and power factories, vehicles and homes.

Surf on…

2018-08-31T07:59:38+00:00By |Categories: Recycling Process|0 Comments

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