“Films go into vaults, art into museums, and music into halls of fame. Most fashion is worn for a few seasons and off-loaded into the recycling bin or, worse, some landfill.”
Landfills: Causes, Effects & Solutions
Landfills can be defined as a site for waste disposal. The waste is usually buried in order to get rid of it. Landfills are one of the oldest forms of waste disposal.
Although the use of landfills has some upsides, there are also some severe disadvantages. In the following, the advantages, causes, effects and solutions to the landfill problem are examined below.
Advantages of Landfills
- Short transportation distances
- Energy production
- Convenient to operate
- Cheap waste disposal method
- High safety level
Short transportation distances
One advantage of landfills is that they are usually located relatively close to big cities. Therefore, the transportation distances and thus the emission of greenhouse gases through the use of fossil fuels in vehicles can be kept at a quite low level.
Moreover, the danger of accidents and resulting pollution also is quite low. Therefore, through short transportation distances, landfills can be an effective measure to get rid of large amounts of waste.
Some of the waste dumped in landfills can be processed and used for energy production. This is a quite efficient way to use resources since instead of just burying the trash, we get a useful product out of it. Therefore, landfills can also contribute to energy production if they are set up properly.
Convenient to operate
Landfills are usually quite easy to operate and can also process large amounts of waste in a relatively short period of time. This is especially important in areas like big cities with large amounts of waste where the speed of waste processing is an important factor. Thus, the convenience in the operation process of landfills is another advantage.
Cheap waste disposal method
The disposal of waste in landfills is relatively cheap compared to other waste disposal methods. Therefore, industries and private households are eager to dispose of their waste in landfills.
High safety level
Landfills are considered to be quite safe. There are not too many accidents reported from landfills. The safety of landfills also depends on a country’s regulation standards.
Especially in developing countries, these standards are usually quite low and therefore the safety level may be lower than on landfills in developed countries with high safety standards.
Causes for Landfills
- Consumption levels
- Lack of willingness for reuse and recycling
- Population growth
- Industrial waste
- Lack of education
Agricultural waste is one cause of landfills. There are many different kinds of agricultural waste, including crop remains and animal manure. This kind of waste is often disposed of on landfills.
In many cases, these kinds of waste can cause serious environmental problems since they usually contain large concentrations of nitrogen or even toxic substances which could lead to soil pollution.
Our consumption levels are an important factor when it comes to the landfill problem. Since the industrial revolution period, average consumption levels have increased significantly.
This is due to the fact that with the help of machines, large quantities can be produced which in turn leads to a lower unit price.
Although this development has its advantages, it also causes severe environmental problems. With increased consumption, also the waste produced per capita increased significantly.
Therefore, an increase in consumption levels also increases the amount of waste and thus leads to an increase in the need for landfills.
Lack of willingness for reuse and recycling
Another reason for landfills is that we are simply not willing or do not pay enough attention to reuse and recycling. We have many items that are still working but we dispose of them into the trash since we want to have the newest version of it. This behavior leads to an unnecessary waste of resources and also contributes to the landfill problem.
Our world population continues to grow. This growth in population also implies an increase in waste production.
Moreover, also individual consumption levels are likely to increase since many people in developing countries now aspire to similar lifestyles as we have in our Western world.
Thus, chances are that consumption levels continue to increase, which leads to an increase in waste production and also likely increases the landfill problem.
Urbanization also contributes to the landfill issue. Since most of our nowadays jobs are in the services industries now, people have a tendency to move into cities and leave rural areas.
This behavior leads to a local population concentration and also to a local increase in waste production. Therefore, in these high-populated regions, the need for landfills also increases with the number of locals.
Another important factor for the need for landfills is waste produced by industries. Due to our high consumption levels, companies try to meet the demand for goods through high levels of production of material things.
This production behavior leads to a large amount of industrial waste since the by-products of the production processes are usually not usable in an economically reasonable way.
Therefore, through this high level in waste production, there is also a big need for landfills that goes along with this production behavior.
There is also quite a lot of waste that is produced in construction sites. A big fraction of this solid waste is disposed of in landfills in order to get rid of it.
Especially in popular cities which grow at a steady rate, more and more houses and flats are built in order to meet the demand for housing.
However, this also leads to an increase in waste from construction sites which in turn has to be disposed of in landfills. Therefore, construction work can also contribute to an increase in landfills.
Lack of education
A lack of education can indirectly contribute to the landfill problem since it may lead to behavior that leads to an increase in waste production.
For example, if people not aware of the negative environmental effects that are implied by waste production, they simply do not care how much and which kinds of waste they produce.
In turn, this also contributes to an increased need for landfills since we have to get rid of the waste somehow.
Effects of Landfills
- Water pollution
- Soil pollution
- Effects on the fertility of soil
- Odor nuisance
- Visual pollution
- Local drop in property prices
- Spread of diseases
- Air pollution
- Global warming
- Impact on biodiversity
- Health effects
- Economic effects
Landfills can lead to water pollution. If landfills are installed near rivers or lakes, leakages in landfills may lead to contamination of these water bodies. Moreover, landfills can also contaminate groundwater with harmful or even toxic substances.
This can happen if the landfills are not set up properly and rain can wash harmful compounds of the waste through the soil into our groundwater.
Soil pollution can be another effect caused by landfills. All kinds of toxic materials are stored in landfills. If heavy rain sets in, these toxic compounds can be washed into the soil, resulting in soil contamination.
This may also include a change in the acidity of the soil which may make the soil unsuitable for other purposes like farming for a quite long time.
Effects on the fertility of soil
Moreover, the fertility of soil which surrounds landfills usually drops to a quite low level. The soil is often contaminated with harmful chemicals and also acidity levels are altered to levels that are extremely harmful to the natural vegetation.
Therefore, areas surrounding landfills usually suffer from a reduction or even from a destruction of soil fertility.
Often, there is also a quite unpleasant smell in the areas which are located close to landfills. Especially in landfills where big fractions of organic waste are processed, the odor nuisance can be quite severe.
This likely impacts the life quality for residents living near these landfills since they are harmed by the smell on a daily basis.
Landfills not only cause unpleasant smell, they usually also cause visual pollution for people living next to these landfills. People usually prefer to have a view on mountains or lakes.
A view on a landfill is usually not a thing people strive for. Thus, landfills also lead to visual pollution for people living next to them or also for people who frequently pass these areas.
Local drop in property prices
Since areas which are located quite close to landfills are adversely impacted by smell and other unpleasant circumstances, property prices in these areas are usually lower compared to areas without landfills.
This means if new landfills are installed, landlords who own land which is located next to these landfills will suffer from a value reduction of their property.
Spread of diseases
Landfills may also cause the spread of diseases if they are not operated in a safe and proper way. Especially in the processing of organic waste, bacteria can easily multiply and spread which may cause epidemics in the worst case.
This problem is especially severe in landfills which are located in countries with high air temperature and high moisture since bacteria love these conditions for breeding.
Therefore, landfills can lead to a spread of diseases if these landfills are not set up and operated in a proper manner.
Landfills can also cause air pollution. Since all kinds of harmful chemicals are disposed into landfills, part of these chemicals may evaporate over time which can lead to a contamination of the air surrounding the landfills.
Moreover, if these substances get into the atmosphere, this air pollution may in turn lead to acid rain or may also contribute to ozone depletion.
Landfills can also contribute to global warming. Landfills are known for the emission of methane which is one of the most harmful greenhouse gases.
Apart from methane, also additional other gases may be emitted in landfills. Thus, the emission of methane and other greenhouse gases increases the speed of global warming.
Impact on biodiversity
Biodiversity may decrease in areas which are affected by landfills. Landfills usually require large areas of land to operate. This means that when new landfills are constructed, the natural environment of many animals and plants may be destroyed.
Moreover, also the living conditions in the areas next to landfills may be altered since the pH-value may be changed.
Moreover, soil pollution may also decrease biodiversity since plants are usually quite sensitive to changes in their natural living conditions. Chemicals from landfills usually alter these natural conditions and animals and plants may suffer from adverse effects.
There may also be severe health effects for people living nearby landfills or for people who pass these landfills frequently because of the gases emitted from landfills. These gases can lead to lung diseases or cancer.
Although this is not already entirely clear from a scientific perspective, living near landfills likely increases the probability of these kinds of diseases.
Since there are many inflammable items disposed on landfills, there is a big chance for fires that can spread easily and lead to big infernos if not treated in a proper way. This problem is especially severe in developing countries where landfills usually have quite low safety standards.
In these regions, landfill fires are quite common. These fires can destroy landfills and may also lead to the emission of large amounts of toxic gases which may lead to significant air pollution.
There are significant costs associated with the operation of landfills. One the one hand, the processing of waste can be quite costly. These costs are usually borne by the taxpayers‘ money. Moreover, there are also social costs due to the negative externalities imposed by landfills on nearby residents.
These externalities include the odor nuisance, the visual pollution as well as the adverse health effects. Thus, the operation and maintenance of landfills also impose significant costs on our society.
Solutions to the Landfill Problem
- Reduce consumption levels
- Reduce waste
- Switch to organic food stores
- Avoid bottled water
- Avoid coffee-to-go cups
- Buy secondhand products
- Reuse and recycle
- Improve waste management
- Improve landfill structure
- Convince others
Reduce consumption levels
In order to reduce the problems related to landfills, we should try to reduce our consumption levels. Especially in the Western world, consumption levels are on a level that is likely not sustainable in the long run.
Making things worse, also people in developing countries now aspire to a similar lifestyle. It should be obvious that if this trend continues, the overall world consumption level will increase to a level that will overwhelm our environmental system. This consumption level will also lead to an enormous amount of trash, which has to be handled somehow.
Therefore, an increase in consumption levels also likely leads to an increase in landfills. Thus, we should strive for a decrease in consumption levels on a global scale in order to avoid the significant implied negative consequences.
We should also try to avoid the production of waste whenever possible. There are several occasions in our daily life in which we can easily reduce waste. For example, we should not use plastic items like cups that are just used a single time and then disposed into the garbage can.
We can also reduce waste from packaging. By doing so, the amount of waste can be reduced significantly. This in turn will also mitigate the landfill problem.
Switch to organic food stores
Another measure against landfills and the related problems is to switch from conventional to organic food stores. In most cases, almost all items in conventional food stores are packaged in plastic or plastic-related materials. By buying these items, large amounts of garbage are produced over time.
In many organic food stores, the amount of plastic packaging is much lower than in conventional stores. Therefore, buying products from organic food stores instead of conventional stores may also lower the waste produced by each individual and may thus also mitigate the landfill problem.
Avoid bottled water
Water bottles are often made of plastic. Over the course of one year, enormous amounts of plastic trash are produced by using bottled water. Instead, substituting bottled water with tap water would mitigate the waste production problem significantly.
In many areas, our drinking water is quite clean, so drinking water from the tap is not a big deal and will likely not impose any health issues. However, water quality varies significantly over countries.
Drinking tap water instead of bottled water therefore is a good measure to avoid trash in Western countries, but may lead to serious health problems in many developing countries.
Therefore, if you live in a developed country with good water quality, switching from bottled to tap water is a good and easy measure in order to reduce waste production and the implied landfill issue.
Avoid coffee-to-go cups
Coffee-to-go cups are a vast environmental problem. The number of cups that are disposed of each year after a single use is ridiculous. It is estimated that we use 500 billion plastic cups each year. Everyone can imagine what that means for our trash production.
Simply switching from single-use plastic cups to cups for multiple use could significantly reduce the problem. Thus, avoiding plastic cups that are just meant for single use can significantly reduce our waste production and may also mitigate the landfill issue.
Buy secondhand products
Another measure to mitigate waste production and therefore to reduce the landfill problem is to buy secondhand items instead of new ones.
By doing so, we can use our resources more efficiently and reduce the production of unnecessary waste which in turn lowers the need for landfills and the implied adverse consequences.
Reuse and recycle
By reusing and recycling your belongings, you can also contribute to a reduction in waste production. When you have items you do no longer use but which are still working, you can give them to your family or friends.
If nobody wants your old items, you should dispose of them in a manner that they can be recycled efficiently. This can be done by properly separating your waste.
Improve waste management
Another way to reduce the landfill problem is to improve waste management systems. This could mean improving recycling systems in order to lower the amount of trash buried into landfills.
By improving these waste management systems, waste can be treated more efficiently and the adverse effects of landfills could be mitigated to a certain extent.
Improve landfill structure
The proper installation and maintenance of landfills are crucial to be able to avoid environmental issues from these landfills.
However, especially in developing countries, regulatory standards for landfills are often quite low and therefore, the setup of landfills often leads to severe weaknesses which can lead to soil pollution and other related issues.
Thus, improving the landfill structure and the processes may reduce the issues related to landfills significantly.
Education is a crucial part in order to reduce the amount of trash that is produced each year. We have to raise awareness on the topic of waste production and its negative consequences for our environmental system.
This education should already start in school so that children can integrate this knowledge into their daily behavior. Moreover, children are likely convincing their parents that a reduction in trash would benefit our environment and therefore also the living conditions for their children in the future.
Thus, parents will be more aware and more likely to change their behavior in order to avoid trash and therefore also mitigate the landfill problem.
Your actions matter! However, by influencing and convincing your family and friends, you can multiply your positive effects.
Since other people may be more likely to change their consumption behavior if you explain to them how they can make a contribution to protect the environment, these people are more likely to behave accordingly and therefore to reduce their waste production which in turn can mitigate the landfill issue.
Landfills are an effective way to get rid of our trash. However, there are several downsides related to landfills. The use of landfills can have a significant adverse impact on the whole environmental system, including animals, plants and also no us humans.
There are several measures that we can take in our daily life to mitigate waste production and therefore the adverse effects of landfills. If we all make small changes in consumption behavior, the use of landfills and the implied adverse consequences could be mitigated in a significant way.
About the author
My name is Andreas and my mission is to educate people of all ages about our environmental problems and how everyone can make a contribution to mitigate these issues.
As I went to university and got my Master’s degree in Economics, I did plenty of research in the field of Development Economics.
After finishing university, I traveled around the world. From this time on, I wanted to make a contribution to ensure a livable future for the next generations in every part of our beautiful planet.
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