Landfill problems

In the previous post, we have seen what a landfill is and how much garbage ends in this facility. To bury waste into the soil has many impacts on our environment and the main problems are the following: 

  • The decomposition and fermentation of the organic matter present in the waste generates biogas, mostly a mixture of methane gas (CH4) and carbon dioxide (CO2), which are responsible for global warming
  • Methane can accumulate in the landfill and could cause an explosion
  • Soil and water contamination in the region caused by the water from the landfill draining various contaminating materials (heavy materials such as lead, mercury, among others, that may be present in the waste)
  • Land occupation and impact on the landscape

Landfill is the least recommended option due to the impacts it this can generatecause[1]

With the aim of reducing the environmental impact on the planet, modern landfills are waterproofed to prevent the polluting products from migration or transferring to the environment. Likewise, in landfills, liquids present in the waste that carry toxic or polluting materials (leachates) are channeled. Any biogas generated produced is also collected, which is used as, for example, to generate electricity.

Despite the preventive measures applied, landfills emit such a high quantity of methane gas– CH4–, which that they constitute the primary source of greenhouse gas emissions in the waste treatment. I have always heard that there’ s a gas capture system in these facilities, but what I didn t know that is that said catchment[3], is only estimated to be effective for 20%[4] (19%[5]) of the methane that they emit.

Landfill is the main cause of greenhouse effect emissions (methane CH4) in waste management


In this direction sense, and to avoid greenhouse gas emissions, the European Union established a Directive[5] for 2016 that obliges all member countries to reduce the biodegradable waste or biowaste (mostly organic matter) present in landfills up to 35% of the organic waste generated in 1995. Also, another European Directive[6] forbids waste from being sent directly to landfills if it has not received a previous[7] treatment, in Ecoparks (more information in the next post).

These two regulations are good examples, among many others, of the benefits to that come with belonging to the European Union, benefits that we sometimes we take for granted.

Want to know more?

 The book Stop garbage. The truth about recycling, Alex Pascual, February 2019

Basureros para rato, RTVE. Program El Escarabajo Verde Program documentary about illegal dumps (CAST)

i Landfill closure in Menorca due to leachate leakage (CAT)

[1]. “Being wise with waste: the EU’s approach to waste management,” European Commission, 2010

[2]Prevention and waste management general program, Catalonia 2013-2020.

[3]. Data extracted from: “Emission evolution in Catalonia” Catalan office for climate change,2014

[4].”A Changing Climate for Energy from waste, for friends of earth,” Dominic Hogg report for the well-known consultancy Eumonia

[5]. Directive 1999/31/CE, article 5

[6]. Directive 98/2008/CE) Transpose in the law Ley de residuos y suelos contaminantes, Spanish Government

[7]. With some exceptions

Foto: Ian Burt Source image with thanks to Mark Heard

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