Are We Abusing our Landfills to the Breaking Point?

Landfills are an eyesore, they are unpleasant to smell and produce gases which contribute to global warming while also taking up valuable real estate.  That being said, they are often considered a necessary evil.

Here are some startling facts from

  1. Each person creates roughly 1.8KG of garbage a day
  2. 75% of waste is recyclable but we only recycle about 30% of it
  3. Canada produces double the amount of waste per capita as Japan
  4. 93% of Canadian homes have access to recycling
  5. North America has just 5.1% of the worlds population yet consumes 24% of the Earth’s resources
  6. Airports and Airlines only recycle 20% of their waste

As one can see, Canadians are not doing enough to curtail their waste creation.  This is undoubtedly one of the biggest issues regarding sustainability of our landfills.  Regardless of what technology we deploy there is nothing available which can get rid of our excess garbage if we are unwilling to do our bit. The website is home to a junk removal company who is an advocate for the reduction of consumerism which fuels their company. In an ideal world they believe they would be out of business because people would refrain from buying “cheap single use objects”.

Negative effects of Landfills

One of the problems with landfills is that when precipitation falls water seeps deep into the earth, this sometimes results in toxic water mixing with surrounding areas, and most dangerously with groundwater. Not only does this pose a threat to people’s drinking water but it also can have negative impacts on local ecosystems. This combination of water and toxins from the landfill is referred to as leachates. To correctly manage the leachates there are a number of liners used.  These liners can be quite expensive. This in turn makes landfills less of a viable long term option.

In addition to the water potentially becoming tainted, the air surrounding the landfill can be affected. Landfills obviously have an odor to them, but beyond the nuisance of this they also have some potential health concerns associated with them. Dumps are constantly being moved around and dust is created and thrown into the air. Furthermore, heavy machinery used in and around the landfill produces higher than normal exhaust levels. One of the greatest environmental issues surrounding landfills is the methane gas which is produced. Methane has a number of health risks associated with it, such as headaches and nausea. In addition to this, methane gas is one of the worst greenhouse gases from an environmental stand point.

Benefits of Landfills

It’s no doubt that landfills are the most convenient method of disposing of waste. In addition to sheer convenience, we have technology which allows for the methane gas to be converted into energy. “wells” are created in the landfills to collect the methane gas in pipes, these pipes then transport the gas to be burned off in turbines similar to any other natural gas powered source. The burning of this methane gas has two functions, it acts as an energy source and it also burns off the harmful methane gas.  Although this does not provide a 100% answer to our energy needs nor does it solve other issues regarding landfills but it is a good step in the right direction.

Beyond the Landfill: Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Although the issue of whether or not a landfill is sustainable is important, another pressing issue regarding the amount of waste we humans generate is the giant patch of ocean now consisting of a floating ‘Trash Vortex’. Referred to as the great pacific garbage patch, the area of the ocean estimated to span at least the size of the United States consists of plastics which do not decompose, wreaking havoc on marine life like sea turtles. What makes this worse is that much of the plastic is breaking apart and getting smaller which only makes it more accessible for marine life to consume. As a result of this the entire Eco-system is getting damaged.

Final Thoughts

Preaching proper disposal of waste is important but above all else a reduction in our consuming and a change in our packaging is key to having a sustainable landfill system. As populations continue to explode our need for space is also going to increase, as will our need for landfill space.  There is a finite amount of usable space to go around so eventually something is going to have to give.  Incinerating the garbage only adds to the problem. People in general want someone else to come and fix the problem with some fancy new technology but the fact is the change has to start with the consumer.  Buying less frequently, recycling, re-using, composting, and being generally aware of the amount of waste we produce is a necessary step in ensuring we do not turn our planet into a junk yard.