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What is Landfill

What is Landfill

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Before the emergence of the black plague several years ago, garbage collection was a strange idea. However, sanitation is now a primary focus for any community that wants to stay healthy. With the ever-increasing global population, waste generation is steadily swelling. And as a way of managing these wastes, various structures have been designed. The two major ones include dumps and landfills. 

The majority of people use the two words interchangeably, but the difference is huge. A landfill is a well-designed structure that is constructed in or on the ground for collecting and separating waste from the environment. The trash is protected against rain, groundwater, and animals like rodents. On the other hand, a dump is a hole dug in the ground for disposing of trash without any regulation. The hole is usually left open; therefore, the garbage is exposed to the external surrounding, which makes it a breeding ground for animals like birds and rats. In this discussion, we focus on the former and discuss all the aspects of a landfill you need to know.

Types of landfills

The longstanding types of landfills include a municipal solid waste (MSW), hazardous waste, and industrial waste. The fourth type that is yet to be adopted in various places worldwide is the green waste landfill.  Each deals with only specific types of trash and have rules governing their operation. 

MSW landfill is the most common type and is designed for disposing trash from households, hotels, and restaurants. They can also handle some non-hazardous wastes from industries and other commercial enterprises. The rules of operation vary by place as some are open for residents to dump their garbage individually while others only admit dumpster companies. 

An industrial waste landfill is also known as the construction and demolition landfill. As the name suggests, it holds trash generated during commercial operations like building. Typically, the waste disposed of here includes concrete, asphalt, gypsum, lumber, metals, bricks, roofing materials, and any other debris from demolition, construction, or renovation. In some cases, land debris like tree stumps may be included.

A hazardous waste landfill is a highly-engineered structure designed to hold various kinds of harmful materials without virtually zero escape into the environment. Due to the associated risks, these landfills have the strictest regulations on construction, waste handling, and maintenance.

Since most MSW landfills do not accept organic waste such as fruits and vegetables that are meant to decompose on their own, green waste landfills are steadily getting popular.  The trash that can be disposed of here include leaves, weeds, mulch, flowers, and biodegradable items. 

Landfill construction

The construction of a landfill is an intricate process that should only be performed by experienced professionals. From the evaluation stage to the actual building, the DIY principle does not apply unless you are an expert in that field.  

Before a landfill is set up, local regulations that may vary by place require that an environmental impact study be conducted. The purpose of the study is to determine the suitable site and evaluates factors like;

Size of the land available – even though the actual facility may take only a few acres of land, the support areas like drop-off stations, collection ponds, and buffer areas require almost double the landfill size. Evaluating if the available piece of land will be sufficient is key.

Drainage of the area – the landscape should allow excess water from the landfill to drain freely without affecting the neighbouring structures.  Consider the relation of landfills and water sources like rivers or streams. Generally, the water from the surrounding should not move into the landfill and vice versa.  

Composition of underlying soil and bedrock– the main purpose of a landfill is to prevent environmental contamination by waste. The soil and rocks beneath the proposed site must, therefore, be intact and compact enough to prevent permeation of any possible leakage to the groundwater. During construction, wells should also be dug in the neighbourhood for future monitoring of the groundwater.

Any other potential environmental impact of the landfill– places like fisheries and birds’ nesting areas should be avoided due to prevent destroying the wildlife.

After the evaluation, permits for construction are obtained from either the local or national government, depending on the area’s rules and regulations. Cost planning is critical to ensure construction and maintenance is done effectively. In case the site lacks feeder roads, access must be established by building the roads first.  Otherwise, the excavation is done to the desired depth and other parts of the structure built. 

What are the components of a landfill? 

Bottom liner –  prevents contact between the waste and the underlying components like soil or even groundwater. Usually, it is made of durable materials that cannot be punctured e.g., high-density polyethylene.   

Leachate collection system– consisting of perforated pipes, sand layer, and gravel packs, the system is designed to collect and remove liquids which may be trapped in the landfill waste. The collected wastewater is directed to tanks or ponds for treatment. 

Cells – these are the areas that hold the waste within a landfill. They are usually many since within the larger cells, are some other smaller ones which may be given a different name.  In the cells, heavy landfill compaction machinery compacts and shreds the waste in layers.  

Water collection system – since water should not come into contact with the waste in the landfill, the drainage system is constructed to allow excess water from rain and storms to flow offsite.  Normally, the runoff is directed to a sed pond through ditches or berns and later released slowly. 

Cover – the waste disposed of in a cell should be covered daily. Either compacted soil of about six inches or alternative materials such as flame-resistant fiber and tarpaulin can be used. Intermediate cover, compacted soil of 12-18 inches, is applied when a cell is not designated to receive other waste for a prolonged duration. Cover or caps serve to prevent exposure to the air, animals and also avoid smells.   

Gas collection system – the cells are airtight, which allows anaerobic bacteria to break down the waste and produce gas. The landfill gas mainly comprises highly flammable methane. The gas is usually collected using pipes and can be harnessed for energy.

Groundwater monitoring stations – as a measure of maximizing safety, groundwater should be evaluated continuously. Wells are therefore sunk in different areas around the landfill for this purpose. 


Landfills are basic facilities in the waste management process. But their construction requires skilled professionals to ensure all the rules and regulations are adhered to.  Therefore, if you consider building a landfill, consult your local authorities and the necessary experts.


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