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How Landfills Work

Trash is being loaded and compacted in a landfill.

What is a Landfill?
There are two ways to bury trash:

Dump - an open hole in the ground where trash is buried and that has various animals (rats, mice, birds) swarming around.
(This is most people's idea of a landfill!)

Landfill - carefully designed structure built into or on top of the ground in which trash is isolated from the surrounding
environment (groundwater, air, rain). This isolation is accomplished with a bottom liner and daily covering of soil. A sanitary
landfill uses a clay liner to isolate the trash from the environment. A municipal solid waste (MSW) landfill uses a synthetic
(plastic) liner to isolate the trash from the environment

The purpose of a landfill is to bury the trash in such a way that it will be isolated from groundwater, will be kept dry and will not be in
contact with air. Under these conditions, trash will not decompose much. A landfill is not like a compost pile, where the purpose is to
bury trash in such a way that it will decompose quickly.

The problem with landfill

Landfill sites are pretty ugly. And its not just the sight of increasing piles of waste thats the problem.
There are many negative issues associated with landfill.

The three most important are toxins, leachate and greenhouse gases.


Many materials that end up as waste contain toxic substances. Over time, these toxins leach into our soil and groundwater, and become
environmental hazards for years. Electronic waste is a good example. Waste such as televisions, computers and other electronic
appliances contain a long list of hazardous substances, including mercury, arsenic, cadmium, PVC, solvents, acids and lead.

Learn more about why mercury is a growing problem

Learn more about electronic waste

Leachate is the liquid formed when waste breaks down in the landfill and water filters through that waste. This liquid is highly toxic
and can pollute the land, ground water and water ways.
Greenhouse gas

When organic material such as food scraps and green waste is put in landfill, it is generally compacted down and covered. This
removes the oxygen and causes it to break down in an anaerobic process. Eventually this releases methane, a greenhouse gas that is 21
times more potent than carbon dioxide. The implications for global warming and climate change are enormous. Methane is also a
flammable gas that can become dangerous if allowed to build up in concentration. Composting your food scraps and green waste in a
compost bin eliminates many of these problems.

Learn more about organic waste and methane

Apart from the financial costs, garbage buried in landfill breaks down at a very slow rate and remains a problem for future

Waste Disposal Methods

Advantages and Disadvantages




ocean overburdened


distruction of food sources

source of nutrients, shelter and breeding

killing of plankton




volume can increase with little addition of


completed landfill areas can settle and requires


filled land can be reused for other community

requires proper planning, design, and operation




requires minimum land

expensive to build and operate

can be operated in any weather

high energy requirement

produces stable odor-free residue

requires skilled personnel and continuous


refuse volume is reduced by half

unsightly - smell, waste, vermin





health-hazard - insects, rodents etc.

damage due to air pollution

ground water and run-off pollution


key to providing a liviable environment for the




some wastes cannot be recycled

technological push needed

separation of useful material from waste difficult

What are the advantages and disadvantages of landfill?

Answer by T.E. Woodwose
A long-term environmental specialist for the private sector, government and industry. A curmudgeon with years of practice. A person
with no belief in or need for invisible friends or magic horseshoes. An artist (stained glass, wood carving and drawings) with work
around the world. A second degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do and Shotokan Karate. Rated in Aikido.
Landfills are engineered waste disposal systems that have largely replaced rubbish tips or dumps. The modern landfill is engineered to
prevent loss of leachate and gases to the environment. It features impermeable membranes under it to prevent liquid leachate,
segregated areas for hazardous waste, and a comprehensive monitoring program.

Landfill Advantages

A specific location for disposal that can be monitored.

When a landfill is complete, it can be reclaimed, built on or used as parks or farming land.

Waste going to a properly designed landfills can be processed to removeall recyclable materials before tipping.

Waste going to a properly designed landfills can be processed to remove organic material and use it for compost or natural gas
(methane) production.

Properly managed landfills can capture the natural gas (methane) produced by the decomposing material underground.

Properly managed landfills can minimize and/orcapture the leachate produced by the decomposing material underground.

Landfill Disadvantages and Problems A poorly designed or operated landfill shares many problems observed at uncontrolled dumping

Landfills and the surrounding areas are often heavily polluted.

Landfill can pollute the water, the air, and also the soil.

It is difficult to keep dangerous chemicals from leaching out into the surrounding land.

Dangerous chemicals can spread into the water table or into waterways.

Landfill can attract animals and insects to come such as raccoons, rats, mosquitoes, cockroaches, and seagulls.

Landfill can also cause sicknesses, illnesses, and diseases which might spread in communities.

Landfill can increase the chances of global warming by releasing methane, a dangerous greenhouse gas.

Landfills are taking up lots of our land and that can also take away habitats for other animals.

Landfills contain a lot of kitchen scraps and organic material. As the landfill is constantly being covered with new garbage the
organic material decomposes anaerobically (that is, without air).

Anaerobic decomposition produces methane, which is a 20 times more dangerous greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Landfills

Landfills are site for waste disposal by the method of burying which is one of the oldest from of waste management. Landfills are the
most common methods of waste disposal and are the same in most of the place around the world. Landfills are also used for waste
management purposes like for temporary storage, consolidation, transfer and processing of waste material.
Landfills are engineered waste disposal systems that have large rubbish tips or dumps. The modern landfills are made to prevent the
loss of leachate and gases to the surrounding environment. A landfill may also be the ground at are filled with rocks instead of waste
materials so that is can be used for a purpose like for construction.

In order to meet certain specifications in non hazardous waste landfills the techniques that are applied by which wastes are restricted
to small area, the wastes are compressed to reduce their volume and they are covered with soil daily.
In the landfill operations the vehicles which collect wastes are weighed and their load is screened for wastes that do not fulfill the
criteria of the landfills. After deposition of the waste bulldozers or compactors spread and compress the waste on the working face.
This compacted waste is covered with soil or any other alternative material every day. The alternative material that is used to cover the
compressed waste is chipped wood or other green waste. The space that is filled with the compacted waste and the cover material is
known as daily cell. The compression of waste to make it compact is important to extend the life of the landfill.
Landfills have both Advantages and Disadvantages.
Advantages of landfills:

There are many advantages of landfills. The main advantage is that burying can produce energy and can be obtained by the
conversion of landfill gas.

The waste products of landfills can be used as direct fuel for combustion or indirectly they can be processed into another fuel.

Landfill is a specific location for waste deposition that can be monitored.

On completion of the landfill it can be reclaimed and it can be used as parks or farming land.

In properly designed landfills the waste can be processed and all recyclable materials can be used before closing.

Organic material can also be separated from a properly designed landfill which can be used for compost or production of
natural gas.

The landfills that are properly managed can capture the natural gas or methane that is produced by the underground
decomposing material.

Disadvantages of landfills:

Landfills that are poorly designed or operated share more problems that are faced at the uncontrolled dumping areas.

The areas surrounding the landfills become heavily polluted.

Landfill can pollute air, water and also the soil.

In a poorly developed landfill it is difficult to keep the dangerous chemicals from leaching out into the surrounding area.

Dangerous chemicals can seep into the ground water system.

Many insects and rodents are attracted to landfills and can result in dangerous diseases.

It can cause diseases and illness in the communities living around the landfill.

Dohuk Solid Waste Master Plan Finalized

Dohuk, 30 June, 2011 - A master plan to improve the management of solid waste in the Dohuk Governorate has been finalized. The
master plan is a component of UNICEFs $10 million project funded by the European Union to develop Iraqs water and sanitation

After over one year of development, we now have a detailed plan to comprehensively improve our management of solid waste in the
Governorate of Dohuk said the Minister of Municipalities and Tourism in the Kurdistan Regional Government, Mr. Samir Abdullah
Mustafa. With the support of UNICEF and the European Union, this plan is the first step in ensuring a cleaner environment to
improve the public health and overall well-being of Dohuks 970,000 citizens.

Dohuks average waste generation of 1,000 tonnes per day is currently scattered throughout the governorate without any separation or
treatment. The average amount of solid waste per capita per day in the governorate is also more than 30% higher than international
standards with nearly a quarter of the population throwing their garbage outside, burning or burying it, or practicing some other form
of garbage disposal that is hazardous to the environment.

The Solid Waste Master Plan provides a vision and action plan to guide and coordinate the efforts of decision-makers, managers, solid
waste management service providers, special waste generators, community representatives, development partners, especially in the
private sector, and the general public to address
all of the solid waste needs of Dohuk Governorate. The plan aims to clean all cities and communities in the governorate over the next
five years, including closing over 200 illegal solid waste landfill sites which are currently major public health hazards to Dohuks
population; in line with international standards, establish three official landfill sites in densely populated locations within the next 5-10
years, including multiple transit points to compile and transfer solid waste from all communities across the governorate; and, in the
next 10-20 years, generate electricity from the collected solid waste for all people across the governorate.

This master plan is a milestone achievement in our efforts to make Iraqi cities and communities friendly to its children said UNICEF
Iraqs Representative, Mr. Sikander Khan. We thank the European Union for their support to develop this plan and will continue to
work closely with the Government to ensure the plan is effectively implemented through capacity building of the governments staff,
raising community awareness on all of the aspects related to solid waste management, and supporting the strategic investment of their

As part of the overall project supported by the European Union, UNICEF has already completed a similar solid waste master plan in
Basra governorate and is currently developing solid waste master plans in Anbar, Thiqar, Sulimaniyah and Erbil governorates, which
will all be completed by the end of 2011. UNICEF plans to use these solid waste master plans as models to work with Iraqs 13 other
governorates in developing their own solid waste master plans in the coming years. All governorate solid waste master plans will be
instrumental to attaining Iraqs Millennium Development Goal 7 targets of ensuring environmental sustainability by 2015.

About UNICEF Iraq

UNICEF has been on the ground in Iraq since 1983 working to ensure Iraqi children survive and realize their full potential. UNICEF
is supporting the Government of Iraq
to develop child friendly policies, build the capacity of institutions that deliver essential services to children, and convene all duty
bearers to realize the full rights of Iraqi children. Via a network of staff and partners, UNICEFs programmes continue to improve
basic health services, safeguard a quality education, rebuild water and sanitation systems, protect children from abuse, violence, and
exploitation, and meet the needs of the most vulnerable in crisis situations.

About EU in Iraq
Helping Iraqi national efforts in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which have a strong two-way link to the peace
consolidation process is fundamental for the EU. The EUs objective for cooperation with Iraq has been to help Iraq mobilise its own
resources for recovery and development, with the support of the international community. EU support to Iraq from 2003 to the end of
2010 amounts to over 1 billion Euro targeting mainly the following sectors: basic services such as education, health, water and
sanitation, infrastructure; political and electoral process; support to refugees and IDPs; rule of law; human rights; and capacity
building of Iraqi institutions. For more information about EU in Iraq visit: