Post #3 Solid Waste Management Series – Environmental Impacts of Landfills

Figure 1: Basic Solid Waste landfill System 

Source: Atenco Green Juris


We agree in these so call third world countries landfills are solely a necessary part of disposing our daily waste generated, even though first world countries, and even many developing countries have adopted and are operating a fully functional solid waste management system that is environmentally sustainable as illustrated above a well engineered solid waste landfill design, while still and only utilizing landfills to dispose of non-recyclable waste by burying them.

Now land-filling is the oldest and most common method of organized waste disposal around the world since the beginning of time and although yet again we narrow minded individuals tend to conclude that landfills are the most appropriate method of waste treatment because it is cost effective and a quick and easy way of concealing waste as the waste is compacted to reduce its volume, covered with layers of soil and confined to small areas. Landfills still has severe environmental impacts hampering the overall health of humans and animals as discussed hereunder:

  • Greenhouse Gas Methane:- Methane(CH4) the greenhouse gas is produced in landfills mainly due to the anaerobic digestion by microbes. Methane emissions around the world is estimated 30-70 tonnes each year. Now we must note that landfills provide the best conditions for methanogenisis to prevail, with increase volumes of waste buried in the sites mean that methane is produced at these sites for many years after the landfill is closed, (its true impact difficult to quantify) this is due to the slow decay of waste under the ground.

Landfills are the third largest source of CH4 emissions the harm mainly the fact that methane escapes from the landfill during diffusion through the soil cover directly to the atmosphere.

Also methane is the second most prevalent greenhouse gas emitted from human activities and although methane has a shorter lifespan than carbon dioxide (CO2), CH4 is more efficient at trapping radiation, making the impact of methane, on climate change twenty (20) times more greater than CO2.

Figure 1: Illustration of methane escaping, that could be collected to generate electricity

Source: Burkart, K; 2009


In modern updated facilities methane gas is collected from the site and used to generate electricity in methane recovery systems.

  • Contamination of Ground Water:- Ground water is an essential source of drinking water for all living things. It is also considered one of the most important sources of water for irrigation, as it assist in the growing of agricultural crops, maintenance of landscapes, and re-vegetation of disturbed soils in dry areas and is important during periods of inadequate rainfall. Hence any form of pollution can cause severe harmful effects.

Contamination to ground water occurs from landfills when chemicals get into the ground water causing it to be unfit for human use; this occurs when the chemicals and/materials from the land surface moves through the soil ending up in the ground water.

Figure 2: Contaminated Ground Water in Australia 

Source: Environmantal Earth Science, 2015


The danger of drinking contaminated ground water can have serious health implications since it causes diseases such as hepatitis which damaged your liver and dysentery that infests the intestines, also poisoning humans and animals from the toxins, leached into well water. The long-term effects associated with consuming contaminated ground water is different types of cancers.

Landfill should have protective bottom layer to prevent leachate contaminants from getting into ground water as illustrated in the image below.

Figure 3: Landfill engineered with eight layers of protective material to prevent leachate from escaping in Hawaii.

Source: PVT Land Company Limited, 2014


  • Soil Contamination:- Landfill pollute soil due to the production of leachate of xenobiotic chemical not found in the natural soil environment. This is usually caused by improper disposal of waste, note that seepage from landfills is one of the main sources of soil contamination throughout the world.

The main concerns governing this is the health risk soil contaminate pose to human, animals and plants, from direct contact with soil that is contaminated, though soil vapours and the secondary contamination of water supplies under lying the soil.

Figure 4: Soil Pollution in a Landfil Site in Poland 

Source: Central Europe, 2013


The long-term health effects of exposure to soil contamination depends highly and varies upon pollutant type and vulnerability of the exposed population.

  • Increase in Vector, Noise, Dust and Odor:- The management of vector, dust and odors is an ongoing concern of the public, this is natural, biological and chemical processes that occur during aerobic and anaerobic decomposition processes that organic waste undergo when land-filled, along with the collection, transport and handling of the waste (as illustrated here-under as residents of Houghton-le-Spring, United Kingdom are forced to live with constant dust, noise and rats especially during the summer months).

This combined with the effects of temperature, time and rainfall make it difficult to compact organic matter before the waste begins to decompose.

Figure 5: Dust Lifting from a Landfill Site in the United Kingdom 

Source: Residents against Toxic Sites 


This poses prolonged health risk to humans through chemical or microbiological toxicity and must be managed through proper public health standards, since this can be very unpleasant to individuals and homes located in and around landfill sites.

  • Wildlife Disruption:-  The disruption of wildlife as a result of landfill is due to the large parcels of land needed for landfill activities, causing the destruction of plants, fungi and other organisms, these are domesticated to facilitate human benefits of disposing uncontrollable amounts of waste produced by our activities daily.

Figure 6: Land cleared in the United States to facilitate a Landfill 

Source: GOVONI Land Services 


This destruction includes our valuable and important ecosystem which includes deserts, forests, rain-forest and grasslands, this results in the depletion and ultimately distinction of the diversity of wildlife to planet Earth.

Unfortunately, landfills are still a part of societies world-wide, but through the application of design, operational and management techniques all the environmental impacts discussed above can be minimized if not alleviated.

Next post in this series: 

Legislation Governing Solid Waste Management World-wide.



The National Archives, 2012, The Waste Management Licensing Regulation 1994 (Online) Available at <> [20 August 2012].

The Water Resource Agency, 2001. Integrating the Management of Watersheds and Coastal Areas in Trinidad and Tobago. [pdf] Port of Spain: The Water Resources Agency. Available at: <> [Accessed 15 October 2012].

United States Environmental Protection Authority, 2012. Guide to Developing an Environmental Management System. (Online) Available at <> [Accessed 20 October 2012].

United States Environmental Protection Authority, 2012. Environmental Management System. (Online) Available at <> [Accessed 20 October 2012].

United States Environmental Protection Authority, 2012. Lean and Six Sigma Process Improvement Methods. (Online) Available at <> [Accessed 22 October 2012].

United States Environmental Protection Authority, 2011. Lean Thinking and Methods (Online) Available at <> [Accessed 22 October 2012].

United Nations Development Programme, 1997, Urban Problems Remain Similar Worldwide (Online) Available at [19 August 2012].

United Nations Environment Programme, 2012, Global Partnership on Waste Management (Online) Available at [30 November 2012].

United Nations Environment Programme, International Source Book on Environmentally Sound Technologies (ESTs) for MSWM, (Online) Available at < > [Accessed 27 October 2012].

United States Environment Protection Agency, 2012, Lean Government. [pdf] United States: Office of Policy, Available through: [15 November 2012].

United Nations Environment Programme, 2012, Ozone Layer Depletion (Online) Available at [Accessed 3 November 2012].

WasteWatch, 2008, Information Sheet Packaging (Online) Available at <> [29 October 2012].

WasteWatch, 2008, Information Sheet Sustainable Household Waste Management. [pdf] United Kingdom, Available through: [10 September 2012].

Zero Waste Scotland, 2011. Waste Minimisation and Resource Efficiency. [pdf] Scotland: Zero Waste Scotland, Available through:[Accessed 1 December 2012].

Widmer, R., and Oswald-Krapf, H., Sinha-Khetriwal, D., Schnellmann, M., and Böni, H., 2005. Global perspectives on e-waste Environmental.  Impact Assessment Review (e-journal) 25 (5) Pages 436–458 Available through: Anglia Ruskin University Library website [Accessed 19 October 2012].

Zhu, D., Asnani, P.U., Zurbrugg, C., 2008.Improving Municipal Solid Waste Management in India: A Sourcebook for Policymakers and Practitioners, [e-book], Herndon, VA, USA: The World Bank Publications. Available through: Anglia Ruskin University Library website <> [Accessed 15 October 2012].


4 thoughts on “Post #3 Solid Waste Management Series – Environmental Impacts of Landfills

  1. Great research. We in the Caribbean expecially Trinidad and Tobago don’t realize we have options. Reduce, reuse and recycle.


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