We can’t have landfills forever, and we can’t ask others to accept our trash.”

Jaime Lerner, Politician

Pros and Cons of Landfills

advantages and disadvantages of landfills

Landfills (also known as garbage dumps or tips) are sites for the disposal of all sorts of waste. In fact, a high fraction of our overall waste will end up in landfills and will be processed there.

Although landfills can be quite important for proper waste management, they can also imply many negative effects on our environment. In this article, the pros and cons of landfills are discussed in detail.

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Advantages of Landfills

  1. Rather easy to construct new landfills
  2. Straightforward concept to deal with waste
  3. Cheap way to get rid of waste
  4. Good for waste that is non-recyclable
  5. Landfills can prevent environmental dumping
  6. Latest technologies can help to make landfills more eco-friendly
  7. Energy production in landfills
  8. Landfills can reduce transportation distances of waste
  9. Landfills are important to keep regions clean
  10. Landfills can provide numerous job opportunities
  11. Less greenhouse gas emissions compared to burning waste
  12. Landfills can be closed and used for other purposes
  13. Can be used as temporary storage spaces

Rather easy to construct new landfills

The disposal of waste in landfills is a concept that has been practiced for many decades. Hence, also the overall knowledge regarding the construction and the set up of landfills had been expanded over time. Also the waste disposal processes in landfills have been optimized over the years.

Thus, landfills are a reliable way to process waste in an efficient manner on a large scale since if more landfills are needed, they could simply be constructed in order to process even more waste in a proper manner.

Straightforward concept to deal with waste

While waste can also be incinerated, disposing waste into landfills is more straightforward and often also easier to manage. In fact, gathering waste at some central places has been practiced for many centuries.

Hence, proponents of landfills often claim that this concept worked for many centuries and they often see no reason why landfills should no longer be used in the future.

Cheap way to get rid of waste

Since the technology that is used in landfills is rather mature and also quite efficient, landfills are a rather cheap way to get rid of our waste. Thus, also from an economical perspective, disposing waste into landfills can make more sense compared to other waste management methods.

Good for waste that is non-recyclable

Landfills are especially suitable for waste items that cannot be recycled. Sure, we should try to recycle as much waste as possible in order to use our natural resources in the most efficient manner. Yet, there is a fraction of waste that is non-recyclable and in order to get rid of this sort of waste, landfills are a great way to do so.

Landfills can prevent environmental dumping

Environmental dumping has become an increasing problem over the past decades. This concept implies that rich Western countries often ship large amounts of their waste to poor developing countries in order to get rid of it. However, this often leads to serious issues in those waste-receiving countries.

In fact, environmental dumping is not a sustainable concept at all and we should take measures in order to stop environmental dumping. One way to prevent environmental dumping is to construct additional landfills so that waste can be processed in the countries where it is produced instead of having it to ship to foreign countries.

Hence, landfills can also help us to protect poor developing countries if they are used in a proper manner.

Latest technologies can help to make landfills more eco-friendly

In recent years, landfills have also become much more eco-friendly. The landfills that are currently constructed have far fewer negative effects on our environment compared to the landfills that had been installed decades ago.

Therefore, through our technological progress, landfills become much more environmentally-friendly, which makes them also more attractive from an environmental perspective.

Energy production in landfills

With modern landfills, it is even possible to produce significant amounts of energy from the gases that are produced in the decomposition process of waste.

Over time, significant amounts of methane and other gases will be emitted from landfills and those gases can be used to produce large amounts of energy over time.

In turn, we have to use fewer amounts of fossil fuels for energy production, which can also help to slow down global warming to a certain extent.

Landfills can reduce transportation distances of waste

Since landfills can be constructed for every big city, the waste also does not have to be transported over long distances. Instead, if every big city has a landfill, the waste can just be collected and can be dumped into the closest landfill.

In turn, waste management becomes much more efficient and we can further reduce greenhouse gas emissions since the transportation distances of waste can be lowered and garbage trucks don’t have to drive too far to find the closest landfill.

Landfills are important to keep regions clean

Another important benefit of landfills is that they can help us to keep our environment clean. Imagine a world without proper waste management processes. Nobody would collect our waste and quite soon, our cities would look like big garbage dumps.

Hence, it is crucial that we have proper waste management processes and landfills in place so that we can keep our cities clean and assure a high quality of life for all of us.

Landfills can provide numerous job opportunities

There is also plenty of manual work that has to be done in landfills. This can include the separation of waste, but also managing the overall logistics. Hence, many workers can be employed in landfills, which also implies numerous job opportunities for the local population.

Those job opportunities can be quite important, especially in poor parts of our planet where many people rely on their jobs in landfills in order to survive.

Less greenhouse gas emissions compared to burning waste

If we burn our waste, large amounts of greenhouse gases are emitted into our atmosphere, which in turn greatly contributes to global warming and to the related adverse effects.

Thus, in order to mitigate the global warming issue, using landfills instead of waste incineration can also help in this regard since fewer amounts of greenhouse gases are emitted into our atmosphere.

This is especially true if the latest technologies are used in newly constructed landfills, which often focus to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as best as possible.

Landfills can be closed and used for other purposes

While landfills can be a great way to get rid of our waste problem, the space where landfills are located can also be used for several different purposes in case those landfills will no longer be needed in the future for various reasons.

Quite often, those areas of land will be used to create nature reserves or for other senseful purposes so that natural ecosystems can be restored.

Can be used as temporary storage spaces

Landfills can also be used as temporary storage spaces for many different purposes. Quite often, landfills have plenty of empty space left which can be rented out by companies that need this space right now.

Hence, landfills are not only suitable to deal with our waste, they can also offer additional space to parties who currently urgently need this space.

Disadvantages of Landfills

  1. Landfills can lead to soil pollution
  2. Landfills can contribute to groundwater pollution
  3. Destruction of natural habitats
  4. Deforestation
  5. Endangerment of species
  6. Air pollution
  7. Particulate matter
  8. Landfills may produce serious smell
  9. Visual pollution related to landfills
  10. Landfills may hurt the tourism industry
  11. Hazardous waste may end up in landfills
  12. May lead to ecological imbalance
  13. Landfills can be a breeding ground for bacteria
  14. Epidemics or pandemics
  15. Poor working conditions in landfills
  16. Potential accidents
  17. Acid rain
  18. Serious long-term problems from landfills
  19. May take a long time to get approved by the local municipalities
  20. Lax regulations regarding landfills
  21. Landfills give people a flawed incentive
  22. Drop in property values due to the construction of landfills

Landfills can lead to soil pollution

Although the use of landfills implies many advantages, there are still some problems related to this concept. For instance, one disadvantage of landfills is that they can lead to serious soil pollution. If waste is disposed into those landfills, the soil will decompose over time. In the long run, harmful chemicals will be released into the soil.

Those chemicals can not only greatly alter the structure of the soil, they can also be quite harmful to numerous bugs and other small animals who currently live in the soil.

Landfills can contribute to groundwater pollution

Soil pollution related to the use of landfills often also implies serious groundwater pollution. If harmful components end up in the soil, chances are that those elements will be washed through the soil into the groundwater sooner or later. In turn, our groundwater may become polluted to a serious level.

Many people may not know it, but water is crucial for all life on earth and we should feel an inner obligation to protect this precious resource as best as possible. Moreover, in the near future, water will become a quite scarce resource due to global warming and many regions all over the world, especially in the Southern hemisphere of our planet, will run out of water.

Hence, especially in those regions, it is crucial to protect the groundwater and in case landfills are a big cause for groundwater pollution in those regions, governments should close those landfills since groundwater protection should have priority in those cases to save the lives of millions of people.

Destruction of natural habitats

For the construction of landfills, large areas of land have to be used. Hence, if governments decide to build new landfills, large areas of land that were previously rather untouched by humans will now be used in an intensive manner.

In turn, the natural habitats of many animals and plants may get destroyed due to the construction of those landfills.

Deforestation

Quite often, the construction of landfills also implies serious levels of deforestation. Landfills are often constructed outside of big cities, which often implies cutting down a high number of trees in order to get sufficient space for landfills. However, deforestation can have numerous adverse effects on our environment.

For instance, trees are natural storage spaces for carbon dioxide and if those trees are cut down, large amounts of greenhouse gases will be emitted into our atmosphere in the long run. Therefore, in order to slow down climate change as best as possible, we should protect our forest and we should not sacrifice them for the construction of landfills.

Endangerment of species

Deforestation and the destruction of natural habitats that is related to the construction of landfills will also contribute to the endangered species problem.

Many of our animals and plants have become endangered or even extinct over the past years and if we continue like that, chances are that a vast amount of species will become extinct in the near future.

Hence, in order to protect our species from extinction, we should also avoid the excessive use of landfills.

Air pollution

Another downside of landfills is that they will also contribute to some level of air pollution. Over time, the trash will be decomposed and in these decomposition processes, the wind will carry gases and other light components and spread them over quite long distances.

Particulate matter

Through the decomposition of trash in landfills, myriads of fine particles will develop over time and those fine particles will also be spread by winds and can end up in nearby cities, which in turn can lead to serious health problems for the local population through particle pollution.

Landfills may produce serious smell

The use of landfills also implies significant levels of smell. Especially if these landfills are located quite close to big cities, this can be quite annoying since people who live close to those landfills may suffer from this smell quite a lot, which can greatly decrease the quality of life of those people.

Hence, in order to mitigate the smell problem, politicians should make sure that landfills are implemented at a place where not too many people are bothered by unpleasant smell.

Visual pollution related to landfills

The presence of landfills is often also not a pretty picture. In fact, I don’t know a single person who would like to live close to a landfill. Hence, it can be quite annoying if a landfill is constructed in your neighborhood and if you can see this landfill from your balcony. Thus, landfills can also be a problem from a visual pollution standpoint.

Landfills may hurt the tourism industry

Landfills can not only be quite annoying for the local population, they can also display a significant problem for tourism in a region. People usually want to spend their vacation in nice clean places instead of being surrounded by garbage.

Therefore, if too many landfills are constructed in a specific region, chances are that tourists may no longer want to spend their vacation in those regions.

In turn, the local population may greatly suffer since many people rely on tourism as their single source of income.

Thus, landfills can also adversely impact the tourism industry if they are used in an excessive manner and in inappropriate locations.

Hazardous waste may end up in landfills

Landfills are usually not meant to deal with hazardous waste. In fact, this waste often has to be treated in a certain manner instead of just disposing of it in landfills in order to avoid any environmental issues. However, if the monitoring processes are inefficient in landfills, it is still possible that this kind of waste will end up in landfills.

This can be especially harmful in case of radioactive waste since it may pollute whole regions, which in turn may lead to serious health issues for the local population.

May lead to ecological imbalance

Another problem of landfills is that since for the construction of landfills, large areas of land have to be used and trees have to be cut down, also the local ecosystems may suffer quite a lot.

If the natural habitats of animals and plants are destroyed, some predator species may drop in numbers while other prey species may increase in numbers.

In turn, the whole ecosystem may get out of balance, with unclear long-term effects for the region as a whole.

Landfills can be a breeding ground for bacteria

The waste that is processed in landfills will slowly degrade and decompose over time. However, in those processes, large amounts of different bacteria can develop and if those bacteria can leave the landfill for several reasons, they may spread across the general public.

Epidemics or pandemics

In the worst case, the bacteria that develop in those landfills may even lead to serious epidemics or pandemics. Little is yet known about those bacteria and if an increasing number of landfills are used, the chances for these epidemics or pandemics may increase as well.

Poor working conditions in landfills

Although many people are thankful to get the opportunity to work in those landfills since they need their jobs to make enough money to survive, the working conditions are often quite poor and workers may often not even wear proper protection. In turn, this can also lead to serious health issues for those workers in the long run.

Potential accidents

Since methane and other gases form in landfills over time, there is also a certain risk for explosions if those landfills are not set up properly. Therefore, working in those landfills can also be quite dangerous in this regard.

Acid rain

Through the decomposition of certain types of waste in landfills, gases are produced that can also contribute to the formation of acid rain. Even though acid rain is often belittled by the general public, it is a serious problem and can have various negative effects on our environment.

Serious long-term problems from landfills

It is always hard to assess the true long-term effects of our actions and the same is true for the use of landfills. It will be hard to predict the negative effects of landfill use in the long run and therefore, we as humanity should be quite careful and should not use landfills in an excessive manner.

May take a long time to get approved by the local municipalities

The construction of landfills can also take a quite long time. Quite often, the approval of landfills can take several years and also the construction of those landfills can take a while. Hence, landfills are not a quick solution that can be used to solve problems overnight.

Lax regulations regarding landfills

Another issue of landfills is that there are often also only quite lax regulations in place. In fact, in some countries, the set up of landfills is not subject to strict controls at all and therefore, the operators of landfills will have significant room of discretion regarding how eco-friendly they want to set up their landfills.

In turn, this can lead to serious pollution if profit-maximizing goals are more important for landfill owners than protecting our ecosystems.

Landfills give people a flawed incentive

Many people may also think that since we have many landfills in place, they do no longer have to care about avoiding waste at all since the waste can be processed in a proper manner.

However, this is flawed thinking since our waste production always has negative effects on our environment, even if the best landfills are used.

Hence, make sure that you continue to reduce your waste production and to recycle your waste as best as possible.

Drop in property values due to the construction of landfills

If landfills are constructed in your neighborhood, you can be pretty sure that also the value of your property will drop significantly. People usually don’t want to live close to landfills and therefore, prices of houses that are located near landfills will be significantly lower compared to other areas without landfills.

Top 10 Landfill Pros & Cons – Summary List

Landfill ProsLandfill Cons
Modern landfills are more eco-friendlyLandfills can contribute to soil pollution
Latest technologies can be usedGroundwater pollution
Working infrastructure around landfillsCan lead to particulate matter
Landfill processes have been optimizedDestruction of natural habitats
May prevent environmental dumpingLandfills may lead to deforestation
Landfills are a cheap way to deal with wasteHazardous waste may end up in landfills
Energy can be produced in landfillsLandfills may lead to serious smell
Can be used as temporary storage spaceVisual pollution related to landfills
Landfills can reduce transportation distancesMay lead to flawed incentives for people
Important to keep cities cleanUnclear long-term effects of landfills

Should We Use Landfills?

As we have seen before, there are numerous advantages and problems with landfills. While we need a certain amount of landfills to keep our cities clean, we also have to make sure that we protect our environment as best as possible at the same time in order to mitigate our environmental problems and to ensure a livable future for the next generations.

Sources

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Landfill

https://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/landfill3.htm

https://www.epa.gov/landfills

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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