Landfill sites are often considered to be a modern phenomenon, but the truth is, despite the fact that the things we discard have changed drastically over the years, us humans have been throwing things away in dumps for many a moon, in fact the first known municipal dump, takes us back to 400 BC in Athens!
Back then, landfills were big open holes in the ground, where waste was disposed of away from cities and settlements, these days the theory is pretty much the same, although thankfully there is a greater understanding of the importance of maintaining sanitary conditions and paying attention to minimising the impact on the environment.
Out Of Sight
Disposing of waste in landfill is a relatively cost-efficient option requiring minimal investment in infrastructure compared to the cost of setting up facilities for incinerating waste or processing it for recovery; in a landfill site, waste is typically compacted into the ground and gradually covered with layers of biodegradable material.
Whilst this is a relatively cost effective method of managing our waste, keeping it ‘out of sight, out of mind’, ultimately the environment pays the real price.
Far From Ideal
The trouble is, the sorts of materials we dispose of in landfill have a negative impact on the environment and can present significant hazards to humans, wildlife and our ecosystems.
Here are a few of the problems associated with this method of waste disposal:
There is nothing attractive about a landfill site and whilst they are generally positioned out of sight, away from populated areas, there is no denying that they are an unattractive sight, creating an ugly blot on the landscape. Even with landscaping and careful screening there is no escaping their negative visual impact.
The decomposition of waste can of course be a smelly process and whilst a well run landfill site may not turn your stomach as badly as it could, there will typically be some whiffy odours detected when you are in close range of one, particularly when there is organic waste breaking down.
On a windy day, it is easy for rubbish, particularly lightweight items to be picked up by the wind and carried elsewhere, polluting the surrounding environment. This can happen at any stage during loading, transporting, offloading or on site. Poor management of a landfill site and poor conditions can make this issue a significant problem.
As water and other liquids drain through the discarded items and materials in landfill, toxic chemicals are absorbed and the resulting liquid is leachate. Sites are lined in an effort to reduce the risk of this hazardous leachate contaminating the soil and waterways. Leachate from landfill sites presents a significant risk to humans, wildlife and ecosystems if it is not contained and managed effectively.
An Unsustainable Solution
Landfill sites take up a huge amount of space and with a steady stream of waste filling them constantly, physical sites suitable for this purpose soon become few and far between. With some materials taking hundreds or even thousands of years to biodegrade in landfill conditions, in the UK and elsewhere we are running out of suitable sites adding to the pressure to reduce reliance on this method of waste management.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Every household, business and other organisation can do their bit to reduce the amount of waste we produce and every bit of effort combined makes a significant difference to the environment. If we all make a concerted effort to reduce, reuse and recycle– making slight changes to some of our bad habits, together we can reduce the quantity of waste that ends up in landfill sites each year.