Landfill Fundamentals

Landfill Fundamentals

Landfill is the discarding of waste into or onto land. Historically, landfills are the oldest and the most common method of waste treatment and disposal in many places around the world. Today, landfill sites are engineered, operated, and monitored under strict technical standards to ensure compliance with federal regulations and to protect the environment from noxious waste.

Most types of wastes may be discarded off through landfills; however, due to environmental safety concerns, most municipalities have prohibited unregulated landfills and burning in a bid to prevent any linkage between the wastes and the surrounding environment. Particularly the groundwater supplies, streams, and airways.

Landfill Location


Due to stringent federal regulations, landfill development must meet a number of favorable characteristics. The proposed area must score high with regards to the zoning regulations, as well as the engineering and the geological specifications.

Additionally, the proposed landfill location should be easily accessible by solid waste vehicles under all weather conditions and should not interfere with the environment of the existing community or destruct animal habitats.

Composition of a Landfill

The following are the four vital elements that comprise a landfill.

Landfill Liner

Also known a composite landfill liner, the landfill liner is a low permeable barrier that is laid under engineered landfill sites to prevent migration of leachates and other toxic materials into the underlying water reservoirs.

Modern landfills require operators to use liners made from compacted clay, plastic or other non-porous material to prevent garbage-water from leaking into the soil.

The Natural Hydro-Geological Setting

When siting a landfill, numerous aspects regarding the subsurface soil characteristics must be examined. Because of the need for a suitable cover and liner material, proper soil and rock characteristics can play a significant role in controlling waste migration. For example, fractured bedrock can make a disastrous landfill because all the wastes would be infiltrated into the groundwater.

Leachate Collection System

Leachate is any liquid that drains from the waste materials and contains considerable concentrations of toxic material or other undesirable elements. In an engineered system, the contaminated liquid that seeps to the bottom of a landfill is collected by a system of pipes and then transferred to a wastewater treatment plant where it is tested and purified.

To ensure safety, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has put stringent measures to oversee that landfill operations prevent leachate and methane leaks.


A cover is a layer of compressed clay or membrane that is laid over a waste deposition on an operational landfill site to buffer the environment from contamination. The cover aids in preventing the contact between the waste and the air reducing unfriendly odors. If poorly maintained, rainwater will seep in causing build up of leachate.

Environmental Problems Caused by Landfills

Environmental landfill problems are categorized into atmospheric and hydrological.

Atmospheric Effects

According to EPA, unmanaged landfills generate twice as much methane and toxic gases than managed landfills. The methane produced is twenty times more effective than carbon dioxide in trapping heat from the sun. The toxic gases also significantly influence the air quality.

Hydrological Effects

When it rains, chemicals from discarded industrial and home cleaning materials are mixed with the water to create a toxic soup. The chemicals are leached into the soil contaminating the soil microorganisms. Landfill fires are another common environmental problem.

The Future of Landfills

With the development of newer types of landfills called bioreactors, the future of landfills appears to less depressing. In these types of landfills, the leachate is used on site while methane is tapped to generate energy. Bioreactors are also capable of storing more waste than traditional landfills.

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