Landfills 101: A Closer Look at a Growing Problem

by | Jul 5, 2018

Each week, we put our garbage in a trash can and it is picked up and hauled away. It is then taken to a landfill where it will sit and hypothetically break down over many years. These landfills are generating large environmental problems due to greenhouse gases, leaching chemicals, and toxins.

Greenhouse Gases

When waste is hauled to a landfill, it is buried in such a way that oxygen is removed from the decomposition process. This then allows the waste to decompose anaerobically. The issue with this process is the methane that is emitted. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that has a large impact on global warming. Newer landfills are working to catch the methane in liquid form using a liner. This prevents the gas from escaping into the atmosphere.

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Leaching Chemicals

As the waste breaks down, chemicals begin to leach. Leaching occurs when two important actions happen simultaneously, one) chemical interactions with surfaces and two) physical movement of water. As water moves down into the surface, it interacts with the surface material and drags them down into the earth. This issue is made worse during heavy rainfall or when the chemicals leach into groundwater. This runoff will make a large impact on the surrounding ecosystem and communities.

The material that is thrown into the landfill has a large effect on what chemicals may be leached. If a computer is breaking down, many chemicals such as lead, acid, and arsenic can leach. Sometimes, a liner or membrane is an effective method of capturing this runoff and discharging it where it can be disposed of properly.

What can we do?

All these issues with landfills contribute to our issues with climate change and lack of sustainability, and should be a concern for anyone who cares about the future of this planet and generations to come.Take steps toward reducing the amount of waste you add to landfills. A large amount of waste is created through packaging. This can come from food from the grocery store, carry out from restaurants, products that you purchased from the store, or shipping material from online shopping. When you have the option, select products that have minimal or recyclable packaging. Bring your own coffee mug to the coffee shop and carry a reusable shopping bag to the grocery store. Aside from that, be sure to support green initiatives, and power companies with renewable energy sources. Less waste is created if we can reduce, reuse, and recycle. When doing your yearly spring cleaning, donate unwanted items instead of throwing them out. Organizations such as Habitat for Humanity ReStore will accept these items. Recycle your old electronics instead of throwing them out.

If we all take small steps towards a more sustainable future, we can minimize waste and the environmental impacts that excessive waste causes. Challenge yourself daily to think of ways you can avoid simply throwing an item in the garbage can.

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