Well it depends.
It depends on a few factors:
The types of waste being dumped in landfills
How good the containment technology is at that landfill
Whether the landfill uses eco-friendly waste to energy technology
There are good and bad landfills just like how anything, when done incorrectly, can be harmful.
Type of Waste
The type of waste put in landfills matters. If organic material is buried in a landfill, the process to break it down is called anaerobic digestion. It is important to keep organic matter out of trash and landfills. This is because as organic matter decomposes, it releases greenhouses gases like methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. These gases are not contained and are instead released into the atmosphere, warming our planet and adding to climate change.
Landfills need to be well contained to prevent contamination. Landfills have liners around them to contain gases and liquids from leaving the landfill area. Think of it as a giant trash bag under ground that keeps everything in one place. If the lining isn’t installed properly or even malfunctions, it can be devastating to surrounding communities.
When rain mixes with chemicals in landfill waste, it creates a toxic substance called leachate. This substance can penetrate the landfill lining and contaminates nearby water sources and soil. To ensure surrounding wildlife and society is unaffected, it is imperative to build landfills with correct containment technology.
Waste to Energy Technology
When trash is incinerated it creates greenhouse gases as well. Instead of being released into the atmosphere, landfill companies can harness these gases and turn it into energy. To do this safely, the incineration must be done in a combustion chamber so the gas released from it can be contained. Then the gas and heat released is sent to a turbine generator for electricity. To prevent further contamination, the ash that is left over is dampened to reduce dust and hauled off in trucks. The trucks take the ash to a landfill suited for ash that prevents water contamination.
Depending on these factors, are landfills good or bad? There are still other contextual factors needed to determine the right answer.
- What is the economic position of the country?
- What surrounds the landfill?
- What other sustainable measures are being taken?
- What would be done if landfills didn’t exist?
There will always be pros and cons for waste removal. What you can do is ask questions, question authority, and remember sustainability starts in your home.