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Environ Sci Pollut Res

DOI 10.1007/s11356-017-0303-9


An overview of municipal solid waste management and landfill

leachate treatment: Malaysia and Asian perspectives
Mohamad Anuar Kamaruddin 1,2 & Mohd Suffian Yusoff 3 & Lo Ming Rui 3 &
Awatif Md Isa 3 & Mohd Hafiz Zawawi 4 & Rasyidah Alrozi 5

Received: 1 November 2016 / Accepted: 21 September 2017

# Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Abstract Currently, generation of solid waste per capita in (solid waste contouring and compacting), local climatic con-
Malaysia is about 1.1 kg/day. Over 26,500 t of solid waste is ditions, landfill’s physico-chemical conditions, biogeochemis-
disposed almost solely through 166 operating landfills in the try and landfill age. This paper summarises an overview of
country every day. Despite the availability of other disposal landfill operation and leachate treatment availability reported
methods, landfill is the most widely accepted and prevalent in literature: a broad spectrum of landfill management oppor-
method for municipal solid waste (MSW) disposal in devel- tunity, leachate parameter discussions and the way forward of
oping countries, including Malaysia. This is mainly ascribed landfill leachate treatment applicability.
to its inherent forte in terms cost saving and simpler operation-
al mechanism. However, there is a downside. Environmental
Keywords Landfill . Leachate . Operation . Municipal
pollution caused by the landfill leachate has been one of the
solid waste
typical dilemmas of landfilling method. Leachate is the liquid
produced when water percolates through solid waste and con-
tains dissolved or suspended materials from various disposed
materials and biodecomposition processes. It is often a high- Introduction
strength wastewater with extreme pH, chemical oxygen de-
mand (COD), biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), inorganic Solid waste management in Malaysia has become a more
salts and toxicity. Its composition differs over the time and challenging task to authorities due to the exponential increase
space within a particular landfill, influenced by a broad spec- in solid waste production (Hannan et al., 2015) as a result from
trum of factors, namely waste composition, landfilling practice fast pace urbanisation and population growth with the expect-
ed population that will reach 33.4 million by year 2020 (Bong
Responsible editor: Philippe Garrigues et al., 2016). Based on the population growth year to year, it is
estimated that the solid waste generation will reach 31,000 t/
* Mohamad Anuar Kamaruddin day by 2020 (Tan, et al., 2014). Traditionally, Malaysia is practising conventional landfilling method for municipal solid
waste (MSW) disposal (Kadir et al., 2013). Current scenario
Environmental Technology Division, School of Industrial indicates that 94.5% of MSW are disposed on the landfill
Technology, Universiti Sains Malaysia, 11800 Penang, Malaysia whilst the remaining is diverted into resource recovery and
Center of Excellence, Geopolymer & Green Technology composted activities (Tan et al., 2014). However, significant
(CEGeoGTech), Universiti Malaysia Perlis, Kangar, Perlis, Malaysia environmental impact by landfilling activity is associated with
School of Civil Engineering, Universiti Sains Malaysia, 14300 this method. As the urbanisation has growth from time to time,
Nibong Tebal, Penang, Malaysia a number of existing landfills reach its maximum design ca-
College of Engineering, Universiti Tenaga Nasional, Jalan Serdang, pacity faster than its design life whereby construction of new
Seksyen 11, 43650 Bandar Baru Bangi, Selangor, Malaysia landfill sites has become difficult due to scarcity of land avail-
Faculty of Chemical Engineering, Universiti Teknologi MARA, able for disposal (Moh and Manaf, 2014). Besides, impacts on
Penang, Malaysia public health and safety issues have become the main reasons
Environ Sci Pollut Res

that the dependency on landfilling for MSW disposal is less system where the leachate pipes connected to domestic sew-
favourable to the stakeholders. age network at conventional sewage plant (Ahn et al. 2002)
Owing to the current situation of waste management, the and treated simultaenously. However, as the volume of leach-
government of Malaysia has considered alternative solution ate generation increased over time with wide variations in
on solid waste management (SWM) to reduce the dependency leachate pollutants, this method reduced the treatment effi-
on landfilling method (Tan et al. 2015). Under the Tenth ciency of sewage plant (Çeçen and Aktas 2004). Concerning
Malaysian Plan, the government has been considering alter- this, many additional treatments have been proposed and
native methods for solid waste management such as waste-to- invented in treating landfill leachate separately.
energy (WTE) (incineration), composting, recycling non- Virtually, various types of treatments have been explored
organic waste and inert landfill, which are solutions to be including biological, physical, chemical and physico-
practiced to reduce the dependence on MSW disposal from chemical techniques. As far as the authors are concerned, most
conventional collection and disposal in unsanitary landfill of the treatments in the market today have their own advan-
(Moh and Manaf, 2014, Fazeli et al., 2016). This article will tages and limitations. For example, biological treatment is
review the solid waste management in Malaysia. The discus- undoubtedly the most effective way in treating high concen-
sion will mainly focus on landfill operation and leachate treat- tration of BOD5 (Renou et al. 2008). However, depending on
ment because it is main option for disposal of MSW in the nature of leachate pollutants, sludge bulking may occur in
Malaysia. Despite the previous review, none has considered conventional aerobic system which disturbs the leachate treat-
an alternative method for MSW disposal. Hence, this review ability. Conventional physico-chemical techniques such as
will include an alternative method for disposing solid waste in chemical precipitation (Chen et al. 2012), adsorption (Ching
Malaysia with a comparison of its application, policy and also et al. 2011, Kamaruddin et al. 2015b, Lim et al., 2009, Singh
its advantages and disadvantages to fill this gap. et al. 2012), coagulation/flocculation (Liu et al. 2012, Al-
The technology of solid waste disposal has evolved from Hamadani et al. 2011, Ghafari et al. 2010) and chemical oxi-
conventional to advanced systems which emphasise more on dation (Sun et al. 2009, Anglada et al. 2011, Cortez et al.
the design, storage capacity and economical principle in re- 2011) may be used as co-treatment along biological treat-
ceiving various types of wastes including leachate treatment ments. These techniques have been proven suitable in dealing
availability. These are the main factors taken into consider- with difficult parameters in leachate including humic, fulvic
ation when planning a solid waste disposal site. Above all, acid, heavy metals, adsorbable organically bound halogens
proper decisions during designing stage, operation and long- (AOXs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and several other
term post-closure plan could ensure efficient monitoring of of persistent organic pollutants (Abbas et al. 2009). Very re-
leachate generation which by far continues to generate even cently, numerous studies have focused on new and advance
after the landfills have ceased their operation (Kamaruddin treatment. In view of that, various factors have been consid-
et al., 2013). In general, a landfill will undergo chemical and ered in proposing an ideal treatment system that results in high
physical changes caused by the degradation process of solid efficiency of parameter reduction as to comply with the per-
waste refuse with the soil matrix once the landfilling is com- missible discharge limit enforced by the authorities.
plete. Liquid percolates through solid waste matrix and assists Therefore, the purpose of this article is to summarise leachate
with rainwater’s biochemical, chemical and physical reactions sustainable treatment processes including biological, physical
within solid waste refuse directly influencing the quantity and and chemical techniques reported in the past 10 years. The
quality of the leachate. Additionally, leachate quality and articles discussed in depth about existing and new methods
quantity are also influenced by landfill age, precipitation, in treating high concentration of leachate and its progress in
weather variation, waste type and composition (Kamaruddin the recent years.
et al., 2015a). Principally, a functional landfill site is always
built with a leachate treatment facility to remove hazardous Relationship of MSW generation and other factors
pollutants in the leachate. Therefore, finding a sustainable
method for leachate treatment has always been a priority for Briefly, population exponential growth, urbanisation, eco-
landfill managers in order to safely discharge treated leachate nomic development and high consumption rates are the key
into the water bodies without endangering the environment. factors that propagate waste generation in Asian developing
Over the last decades, new and advanced landfill leachate cities (Bank 2011; Imura et al. 2005). They accelerate munic-
treatment methods have received significant interests which ipal solid waste generation, alter the waste composition and
offer better removal of pollutants. By utilising these new tech- revolutionise the waste management approaches (Table 1).
nologies, difficult parameters are much easier to treat nowa- For major high-income Asian cities like Kuala Lumpur, the
days. In the early days, landfill leachate was mainly disposed quantity and quality of waste generation are apparently com-
by channelling the leachate pipes to the sewer system and parable to those in Western countries (USEPA 2010). In
released into the sea. Alternatively, there was also a separate Malaysia, MSW generation had risen more than 91% in last
Environ Sci Pollut Res

Table 1 Contaminants that

contribute to COD. Type Constituent

Biodegradable/non-biodegradable compounds
Suspended solids and liquids Microbes, colloids, emulsions, fat, oil and grease
Miscible liquids Alcohols, benzene, glycerin, oils, etc.
Dissolved solids and liquids Acids, salts, sugar, etc.
Inorganic compounds
Dissolved Cations: metals (Fe), metalloids (As)
Anions: CN-, NO2-, SO22-, S2-

Source: Morreno-Castillas ea tal. (2007)

10 years (Periathamby et al. 2009). Setting record by produc- However, Malaysian waste generation pattern seems to be
ing over 26,000 t of waste per day in 2010, average waste more complex than expected. Current data analysis reveals
generation rate in Malaysia is around 1.0 kg/capita/day and that relationship amongst income level, urbanisation and
increased up to 2.2 kg/capita/day in the major city, Kuala waste generation in Malaysia is still indeterminate (Fig. 2).
Lumpur (Table 2). By the year 2020, Malaysian MSW gener- MSW composition and its characteristics could indicate ele-
ation is projected to rise inexorably to 36,800 t/day or over ments contained and their potential pernicious environmental
13.4 million tonnes per annum (Bank 2011). Agamuthu impacts. Understanding this matter is crucial for waste man-
(2011) even predicted the number could go higher than agement planning (Idris et al. 2004). Feasible waste
38,000 t/day by 2020. The increment of MSW generation rate minimisation and disposal scheme could be identified and
is largely due to the rapid annual population growth of 2.4% designed based on the waste composition studies. Indeed,
since 1994 (Manaf and Samah, 2009). The figure is also ex- composition of MSW is highly heterogenous, dynamic and
pected to increase as Malaysia becomes wealthier, in tandem influenced by socio-geographical factors. Lower-income de-
with the waste generation trend in Asian countries (Fig. 1). veloping countries with greater rural population like

Table 2 Influence of population

size, urbanisation and gross State Population Urbanisation level GDP/capita Waste generation Waste generation
domestic product (GDP) on (millions)a (%, compared at current (tonnes/day)c per capita
MSW generation rate in Malaysia to 2000)a price (RM)b (kg/capita/day)
Johor 3.35 71.9 20,911 2800.29 0.83
Kedah 1.95 64.6 13,294 1936.66 0.99
Kelantan 1.54 42.4 8273 1512.41 0.98
Melaka 0.82 86.5 24,697 752.47 0.91
Negeri Sembilan 1.02 66.5 27,485 1106.99 1.08
Pahang 1.50 50.5 22,743 1399.59 0.93
Perak 2.35 69.7 16,088 2233.09 0.95
Perlis 0.23 51.4 15,296 285.90 1.24
Pulau Pinang 1.56 90.8 33,456 1590.35 1.01
Sabah 3.21 54.0 17,242 1990.91 0.62
Sarawak 2.47 53.8 33,307 1889.25 0.76
Selangor 5.46 91.4 31,363 4133.21 0.75
Terengganu 1.04 59.1 19,225 1290.75 1.24
Kuala Lumpur 1.67 100.0 55,951 3697.88 2.21
Labuan 0.09 82.3 29,116 95.21d 1.06d
Putrajaya 0.07 100.0 N.A. 36.45d 0.52d
Total (national) 28.30 71.0 27,113 26,751.41 0.95

N.A. not available

DOS (2011) (source)
DOS (2011) (source)
MHLG (2011) (source)
Estimated figure based on individual state MSW generation growth rate
Environ Sci Pollut Res

Fig. 1 Relationship between 1.5

GDP/capita in USD and MW
Brunei Darussalam

MW Generation Rate (kg/capita/day)

generation in Asian countries.
Adapted from AIT/UNEP (2010)
Republic of Korea

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Lao PDR Thailand
Mandalay, Myanmar
Philippines China


100 1,000 10,000 100,000
GDP/capita in USD (2006)

Myanmar, Cambodia and Indonesia generate more food or waste minimisation, with disposal like landfilling as the last
organic wastes (Fig. 3). There is no difference for Malaysia. resort (Fig. 5). The target improvements for Malaysian current
Organic waste contributes over 40% of the total MSW in waste management policies are outlined in Table 4.
Malaysia, whilst recyclables like paper, plastic, glass and met- Besides, Malaysian government has taken a leap in
al occupy much smaller portion of the waste stream (Table 3). adopting integrated sustainable solid waste management sys-
The organic waste has high moisture content with bulk density tem, federalising household waste collection and transporta-
over 200 kg/m3 (Manaf and Samah, 2009). tion in Malaysia. Solid Waste and Public Cleansing
SWM strategy in Malaysia has been transformed from sim- Management Act 2007 was gazetted and enforced in
ple guidelines in 1988 to current strategic management plan September 2011, giving power to the Federal Government to
(Fig. 4) (Agamuthu 2010). Under the Solid Waste and Public centralise and regulate solid waste management throughout
Cleansing Management Act 2007, solid waste management Malaysia except Sabah and Sarawak (Nadzri 2008).
services encompass separation, storage, collection, transporta- However, hitherto Pulau Pinang, Perak, Selangor, Kelantan
tion, transfer, processing, recycling, treatment and disposal of and Terengganu are exempted from the plan (MHLG 2012).
controlled solid waste. Currently, Malaysian policy and legis- Taking over responsibility on solid waste management from
lative frameworks are formulated, synchronised and promul- the local authorities could be a huge challenge for the
gated to actuate integrated sustainable Reduce, Reuse and Malaysian government, since no country had succeeded in
Recycle (3R)-based solid waste management. The thrust of this solid waste management centralisation (Bank 2011).
management strategy is set on waste management hierarchy Implementation of sustainable waste management in
concept identical to those of United Nations Environment Malaysia is still young vis-à-vis other developed countries like
Programme (UNEP) and European Union (EU), prioritising Japan and Singapore. Hezri (2010) had addressed its four

Fig. 2 GDP/capita, urbanisation 120

and waste generation/capita by
Urbanisation (%, compared to 2000)A

state in Malaysia. Adapted from

100 Kuala Lumpur
DOS, 2011, and MHLG (2011) Selangor
Pulau Pinang
80 W. P. Labuan
Perak Johor

Kedah Negeri Sembilan

60 Terengganu
Perlis Sabah Pahang

40 Kelantan

*Bubble size indicates waste generation per capitaC

0 10,000 20,000 30,000 40,000 50,000 60,000 70,000
GDP/capita at current price in RM (2010)B
Environ Sci Pollut Res

Fig. 3 MSW composition in (USD)
Asian countries. Adapted from Japan 15.0 34,264
AIT/UNEP (2010) Mongolia 16.8 1,224
Singapore 19.8 31,028
Republic of Korea 26.3 18,395
Lao PDR 30.0 581
Philippines 32.7 1,352
Brunei-Muara, Brunei Darussalam 36.0 30,342
Hanoi, Vietnam 41.9 723
Thailand 43.0 3,166
Malaysia 47.0 5,943
China 49.0 2,022
Indonesia 63.0 1,641
Phnom Penh, Cambodia 63.3 513
Myanmar 73.3 232
0% 20% 40% 60% 80% 100%
Food wastes Paper Plastic Metal Glass Others

major constraints: (1) waste management federalisation is less gaseous pollutants that require ultimate disposal. Despite munic-
applicable for devolving power at lower level; (2) waste man- ipal solid waste disposal by landfilling has been debated as a
agement service privatisation has proven to be problematic in misnomer hiding the waste under cover, it is still the inherently
the past; (3) the roles of government and businesses in 3R prevalent solution for developing countries (Vesilind et al. 2010).
implementation are over-emphasised neglecting potential of It is preferred in tackling overwhelming MSW conundrums due
informal recycling; and (4) public awareness on waste issues to its simpler operational protocol and cost-effectiveness (Aziz
is still moderately low. Multi-faceted cooperation from the et al. 2007). Now, landfill construction and operation costs in
solid waste management stakeholders is imperative in Malaysia are estimated at RM 30 million and RM 28.80–49.00
realising national waste management goals. per tonne of solid waste, respectively (MHLG 2012). Of
Malaysian MSW, 95–97% is disposed in landfills (Nadzri
Landfill 2007) and, by the year 2020, 44% of them will be disposed in
sanitary landfills (Periathamby et al. 2009).
Landfill classification system
Ranked at the bottom of sustainable waste management hierar-
chy, final waste disposal technologies like sanitary landfill and In Malaysia, landfills are categorised using three classification
incineration remain crucial albeit immense amount of waste can systems which are based on indicators like decomposition
be slashed through 3Rs. Landfilling is broadly recognised as a process employed, operational status for sanitary landfill and
proper waste disposal method outdoing incineration, because the type of waste disposed. The details of these classification sys-
latter only reduces waste volume but still generates residuals and tems are featured in the following sections.

Table 3 Waste composition in

Malaysia Waste composition Percentage of wet weight

19751 19801 19851 19901 19951 20001 20052

Organic 63.7 54.4 48.3 48.4 45.7 43.2

Paper 7.0 8.0 23.6 8.9 9.0 23.7 7.0
Plastic 2.5 0.4 9.4 3.0 3.9 11.2
Glass 2.5 0.4 4.0 3.0 3.9 3.2 3.0
Metal 6.4 2.2 5.9 4.6 5.1 4.2 6.0
Textiles 1.3 2.2 N.A. N.A. 2.1 1.5 N.A.
Wood 6.5 1.8 N.A. N.A. N.A. 0.7 N.A.
Others 0.9 0.3 8.8 32.1 4.3 12.3 15.0

N.A. not available

Periathamby et al. (2009)
NSWMD (2011)
Environ Sci Pollut Res

Management Guidelines of Clinical and

related Wastes in Hospitals and Healthcare
Establishments (1993) Solid Waste and Public Cleansing
Management Corporation
Strategic Plan (2009-2013)

Action Plan for Waste Management in

Hospitals and Healthcare Establishment 1993 National Solid Waste Management Policy
Signatory to Agenda 21,
UN Conference on
Environment and Development (1992)

Master Plan on National Waste Minimization


Earth Summit (1992)

National Strategic Plan
Environmental Quality (Clean Air) Act 1978 Basel Convention on the for Solid Waste Management in Malaysia
Control of Transboundary Movements (2005) 2+1 Solid Waste
of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal
Collection System
World Summit on Sustainable Development
Action Plan for a
UN Conference on Human Environment (2002)
Beautiful and Clean Malaysia (1988)

1971 1981 1991 2001 2011 Year

Environmental Quality Act
Local Government Act 1976
Environmental Quality (Environmental (Scheduled Waste) Regulations 2005
Impact Assessment ) Act 1987
Environmental Quality Act 1974 Private Healthcare Facilities and Services Solid Waste and Public Cleansing
Act 1998 Management Corporation Act 2007
[Act 673]

Environmental Quality Act

(Prescribed Activities) Order 1989
Solid Waste and Public Cleansing
Management Act 2007 [Act 672]

Fig. 4 Malaysian roadmap towards sustainable solid waste management. Adapted from MHLG (2012), Agamuthu (2010), IGES et al. (2009), Goh

Classification based on decomposition process according to their operational status. However, the Technical
Guideline for Sanitary Landfill, Design and Operation,
In this classification system, microbial degradation environ- August 2006 by the Department of Local Government,
ment is determined whilst its aeration and leachate collection Ministry of Housing and Local Government (MHLG),
measures are evaluated for further distinction. Table 5 de- Malaysia has included open dumping as level 0 landfill.
scribes the characteristics of the landfill types. Landfill levels classified by MHLG, Malaysia can be
categorised as follows:
Classification based on sanitary landfill system
Level 0: open dumping
Sanitary landfill is an engineered waste disposal method Level 1: controlled tipping
emphasising technical aspects like siting, design, operation Level 2: sanitary landfill with a bund and daily cover soil
and long-term environmental impacts. Unlike sanitary land- Level 3: sanitary landfill with leachate recirculation
fill, open dumpsite is not designed to deal with leachate, land- Level 4: sanitary landfill with leachate treatment
fill gas and odour management. Therefore, typical sanitary
landfill system excludes un-engineered open dumpsite and Technical aspects of each level are shown in Table 6. In
divides landfills into four different levels (levels 1–4) Malaysia, only eight landfills are considered as sanitary

Fig. 5 Comparison between Waste

Malaysian and UNEP/EU waste Reduce
management hierarchies. Adapted
from UNEP (2010), European Reuse Reuse
Commission (2010) and MHLG
(2009) opons
Recycle Recycle

Other recovery (e.g energy) Intermediate treatment

Disposal (e.g. landfill) Final Disposal

UNEP & EU Malaysia

Environ Sci Pollut Res

Table 4 National Strategic Plan

for Solid Waste Management Level of service Present 2003–2009 (%) 2010–2014 (%) 2015–2020 (%)
(NSPSWM) targets (%)

Extend collection service 75 80 85 90

Reduction and recovery 3–4 10 15 22
Closure of dump sites 112 sites 50 70 100
Source separation (urban) None 20 80 100

Source: EPU (2006)

landfills. Details regarding current Malaysian landfill Class IV: underground disposal site (inert waste and
levels are unavailable. However, Idris and Inanc, 2004 hazardous/nuclear waste in salt caverns) (Kühle-
claimed that there were 77 open dumpsites, 49 controlled Weidemeier 2003)
tipping landfills (level 1) and 35 level 2–4 landfills in
2002 (Table 7). To tackle overwhelming MSW conun-
drums in Malaysia, ten new landfills will be constructed Semi-aerobic landfill (Fukuoka method)
whilst 42 existing landfills will be upgraded under the
Tenth Malaysia Plan (2011–2015). Semi-aerobic landfill is the most desirable landfill design for
Malaysia (MHLG 2006). It is also referred to as “passive
Classification based on waste type aeration” by the United Nations (UN) and was approved as a
new Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) on 15
Landfills in Malaysia are also classified according to waste July 2011(Tashiro 2011). Initiated by Prof. Masataka
type. Following countries like Australia and Japan, Prof. Hanashima of Fukuoka University, a pilot semi-aerobic land-
Zaini Ujang divides landfills in Malaysia into three classes: fill was first tested in 1975 at Shin-Kamata Landfill in
class I, hazardous waste; class II, designated waste; and class Fukuoka, Japan (Chong et al. 2005). The so-called Fukuoka
III, municipal solid waste (Ujang 2004; UNEP 2005). This is method has been practically tested throughout Japan and other
similar to the European Commission Waste Landfill Directive countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, China, Sri
(1999) which categorises landfills into waste landfills for haz- Lanka and Iran. It is initially designed for temperate climate
ardous waste, non-hazardous waste and inert waste (Sunkin and adopted in tropical countries since 1980s.
et al., 2002; Williams 2013). Nevertheless, classification sys- In a semi-aerobic landfill system, oxygen flows into the
tem under German Waste Disposal regulation is more detailed waste mass through the leachate collection pipes by passive
with five classes as follows: ventilation to accelerate aerobic microbial decomposition in
the waste body. It hastens waste stabilisation and improves
Class 0: inert waste leachate water quality. Meanwhile, leachate and gas are
Class I: quite inert municipal waste (e.g. some incinera- discharged continuously using leachate collection and gas
tion ashes) venting system. The mechanism of Fukuoka method is illus-
Class II: municipal waste trated in Fig. 6. Semi-aerobic landfill design requires meticu-
Class III: hazardous waste lous planning by considering actual site conditions like

Table 5 Landfill classification system based on decomposition process employed

Landfill type Characteristics

Anaerobic landfill Solid wastes are filled in dug area of plane field or valley. Waste is commingled with water in
anaerobic condition
Anaerobic sanitary landfill covered daily Solid waste is covered in a sandwich shape. Condition in solid waste is same as anaerobic landfill
Improved anaerobic sanitary landfill Leachate collection system is installed at the bottom of the landfill site. Others are the same as
anaerobic sanitary landfill. The conditions are still anaerobic but the moisture content is much
less than anaerobic sanitary landfill
Semi-aerobic landfill with natural ventilation and Leachate collection duct is bigger than the one of improved sanitary landfill. The opening of the
leachate collection facilities duct is surrounded by air and the duct is covered with small crushed stones. Moisture content in
solid waste is low. Oxygen is supplied to the solid waste from leachate collection duct
Aerobic landfill with forced aeration The leachate collection pipe and air supply pipes are attached. Air is forced to enter solid waste
causing it becomes more aerobic than semi-aerobic landfill
Environ Sci Pollut Res

Table 6 Operational criteria for

sanitary landfill (levels 0–4) Facility/operation Level 0 Level 1 Level 2 Level 3 Level 4

Perimeter fence ✓ ✓ ✓ ✓
Drainage facility ✓ ✓ ✓ ✓
Daily soil cover ✓ ✓ ✓ ✓
Enclosing embankment ✓ ✓ ✓
Designated unloading area ✓ ✓ ✓
Separated working area ✓ ✓ ✓
Scavenging prohibition ✓ ✓ ✓
Environmental protection ✓ ✓ ✓
Gas venting ✓ ✓ ✓
Leachate collection ✓ ✓
Leachate recirculation ✓ ✓
Leachate monitoring ✓ ✓
Leachate treatment ✓
Liner ✓

Adapted from DOLG (2006) and Agamuthu and Fauziah (2008)

precipitation rate, ambient temperature, soil foundation and & It contributes towards global warming mitigation by re-
rainwater flow area (Matsufuji 2007). Semi-aerobic landfill ducing methane gas emission substantially.
is claimed to be a simple environmentally and economically & The risk of gas explosion and fire hazard is reduced by
sound technology. The advantages of semi-aerobic landfill are releasing gas from ventilation pipes.
listed down as follows: & It converts open dumps into sanitary landfills in an easier
& It purifies leachate significantly by increasing waste de- & Earlier landfill rehabilitation is expected through en-
composition rate. hanced stabilisation.

Table 7 Solid waste disposal

sites in Malaysia (as of September State Closed landfill Operating landfill
Non-sanitary landfill Non-sanitary landfill Sanitary landfill Sum
(Inert landfill)

Johor 23 12 – 2 14
Kedah 6 9 – – 9
Kelantan 6 13 – – 13
Melaka 5 2 – – 2
Negeri Sembilan 11 7 – – 7
Pahang 16 16 – – 16
Perak 12 17 – – 17
Perlis 1 1 – – 1
Pulau Pinang 1 1 1 – 2
Sabah 2 19 – – 19
Sarawak 14 46 – 3 49
Selangor 14 3 2 3 8
Terengganu 12 8 – – 8
Kuala Lumpur 7 0 – – 0
Labuan 0 1 – – 1
Sum 130 155 3 8 166
Total 296

Adapted from MHLG (2012), NSWMD (2011)

Environ Sci Pollut Res

Fig. 6 Semi-aerobic landfill

mechanism. Source: Tashiro

& It is cost-effective. This is due to the high degree of free- demand (BOD) level in leachate and reduces its pH level;
dom in construction material selection and utilisation of the gasification process generates gas from organic acid,
less intensive leachate treatment system. reducing BOD level and increasing pH (Matsufuji 2007).
Biodegradation is driven by aerobic and anaerobic mi-
crobes which are usually from soil cover, MSW, recirculated
It is easy to construct, operate and maintain. Self-purifying leachate and wastewater treatment sludge. Seven major anaer-
capacity is used to stabilise waste body and only requires obic bacteria are depicted in Table 8. Most studies divide
commonly used machinery and equipment. Unfortunately, in biodegradation into five distinct phases (O'Leary, 2002;
tropical climate, semi-aerobic landfill’s convectional air flow Worrell and Vesilind, 2011). Figure 7 illustrates the landfill
and air penetration into the waste mass are weaker due to the leachate and gas generation of each phase. The rate of each
higher ambient temperature and precipitation rate, respective- phase is different for each landfill due to heterogenous phys-
ly (Yamada 2011). To overcome these constraints and propel ical, chemical and biological environments within the land-
wider usage globally, the National Institute for Environmental fills. Hence, composition of leachate produced is used as an
Studies (NIES), Japan is currently augmenting the landfill indicator to determine the degree of waste stabilisation
design in collaboration with Laem Chabang Municipality (Table 9). This is vital for environmental monitoring, especial-
and Kasetsart University, Thailand (Yamada 2011). ly for the design and operation of leachate management facil-
ities (Foo, 2009; Matsufuji 2007).
Principals of decomposition of waste in landfill
Landfill leachate
Generally, decomposition in landfill can be divided into three
categories, i.e. physical, chemical and biological decomposi- After landfilling, solid waste undergoes physico-chemical and
tion. Their progress rates are highly dependent on the waste biological changes. As a result of precipitation, surface runoff
characteristics. Physical decomposition occurs during segre-
gation and mechanical size reduction, whilst chemical decom- Table 8 Important microbial groups promoting anaerobic waste
position involves processes like combustion, pyrolysis and degradation
gasification. Biological degradation initiates right after the
Microbial group Substrate
waste is transferred into the landfill. In fact, the waste has
started undergoing biodeterioration right after the waste is Amylolytic bacteria Starches
being thrown away. Proteolytic bacteria Proteins
Biodegradation is the part that we are concerned. It gen- Cellulolytic bacteria Cellulose
erates highly contaminated hazardous leachate and gases. Hemicellulolytic bacteria Hemicellulose
It involves two key processes, i.e. solubilisation and gasi- Hydrogen-oxidising methanogenic bacteria Hydrogen
fication, which are governed by both aerobic and anaerobic Acetoclastic methanogenic bacteria Acetic acid
decomposition (Matsufuji 2007). Solubilisation process Sulphate-reducing bacteria Sulphate
produces soluble organic acids, ammonia and carbon diox-
ide (CO 2), subsequently increases biochemical oxygen Source: Worrell and Vesilind (2011)
Environ Sci Pollut Res

and infiltration or intrusion of groundwater percolating

through landfill storage, the degradation of the organic frac-
tion of the wastes in combination with percolating rainwater
leads to the generation of a highly contaminated liquid called
“leachate” (Kurniawan, 2006; Renou et al. 2008; Wang et al.
2002). In short, leachate is the liquid that has percolated
through waste mass and infused with dissolved or suspended
matters (O’Leary 2002). It is turbid, malodorous and often
dark brownish in colour. Leachate can be characterised by
two major factors, i.e. quantity (volumetric flow rate) and
quality (chemical composition) (Renou et al. 2008; Tatsi and
Zouboulis 2002).

Leachate quantity

In Malaysia, each tonne of MSW generates 150 l of leachate

(Agamuthu and H. 2008). Based on daily MSW generation
rate of over 26,000 t in 2010, it is estimated that over 3.9
million litres of leachate is produced every day in Malaysia
Fig. 7 Schematic of water balance components within a landfill. Source: nowadays. Estimation of leachate production over landfill’s
Worrell and Vesilind (2011) life span is crucial for environmental monitoring and potential

Table 9 Landfill constituent

concentration ranges as a function Parameter Transition Acid formation Methane fermentation Maturation
of landfill stabilisation degree
COD, mg/L 480–18,000 1500–71,000 580–9760 31–900
Total VOA, mg/L as acetic acid 100–3000 3000–18,800 250–4000 0
Ammonia, mg/L-N 120–125 2–1030 6–430 6–430
pH 6.7 4.7–7-7 6.3–9.0 7.1–9.0
Conductivity, μS/cm 2450–3310 1600–17,100 2900–7700 1400–4500
BOD5, mg/L N.A. 4000–40,000 20–550 N.A.
BOD5/COD ratio > 0.5 0.58 0.06 < 0.1
Sulphate, mg/L N.A. 70–1750 10–420 N.A.
Calcium, mg/L N.A. 10–2500 20–600 N.A.
Magnesium, mg/L N.A. 50–1150 40–350 N.A.
Iron, mg/L N.A. 20–2100 3–280 N.A.
Manganese, mg/L N.A. 0.3–65 0.03–45 N.A.
Zinc, mg/L N.A. 0.1–120 0.03–4 N.A.
Potassium, mg/L N.A. 1085a N.A.
Sodium, mg/L N.A. 1340a N.A.
Phosphorus, mg/L N.A. 6a N.A.
Cadmium, mg/L N.A. 0.005a N.A.
Chromium, mg/L N.A. 0.28a N.A.
Cobalt, mg/L N.A. 0.05a N.A.
Copper, mg/L N.A. 0.065a N.A.
Lead, mg/L N.A. 0.09a N.A.
Nickel, mg/L N.A. 0.17a N.A.
Chloride, mg/L N.A. 2120a N.A.

Adapted from Worrell and Vesilind (2011), Kjeldsen et al. (2002)

N.A. not available
No significant difference between acid formation and methane fermentation phases
Environ Sci Pollut Res

risk management. Leachate formation is dependent on the et al. 2011; Pablos et al. 2011; Rojas and Sahagún 2012;
water balance of landfill site. Water balance is the general term Widziewicz et al. 2012).
used to conceptualise the variation of moisture content in The pollutants generated depend on the physical, chemical
landfill over time due to water inputs and outputs. Leachate and biological mediated processes, particularly waste biodeg-
formation propagates when the moisture content in waste cell radation process (Worrell and Vesilind, 2011; Wu et al. 2004).
exceeds its field capacity, the maximum moisture content that Owing to that, leachate quality varies over time depending on
a porous medium able to hold. the waste biodegradation phases. Leachate contains various
The quantity of leachate generation is affected by two com- organic materials (biodegradable and non-biodegradable car-
ponents, i.e. (1) direct landfill moisture contributors like rain- bon, humic acids and fulvic acids) and the inorganic material
fall, snowmelt, groundwater intrusion, initial moisture and such as colloidal, heavy metals and non-organic salts like
leachate recirculation and (2) landfill moisture distribution sodium, calcium, sulphate, ammonia and high concentration
influencers namely refuse age, pretreatment, permeability, toxics (Aziz et al. 2004; Kang et al., 2002; Wang et al. 2002).
compaction, particle size and density (El-Fadel et al. 2002). Classification of leachate constituents into four major princi-
All factors must be taken into consideration for leachate gen- pal components listed below has been propounded
eration estimation. (Christensen et al. 1994; Kjeldsen et al. 2002).
Leachate production can be calculated using the Water Dissolved organic matter [chemical oxygen demand
Balance Method developed by the U.S. Environmental (COD), total organic carbon (TOC), volatile fatty acids
Protection Agency (Fenn et al., 1975). It is a one- (VFA) and more refractory compounds like fulvic-like and
dimensional analysis concluding the amount of water that en- humic-like compounds], inorganic macrocomponents [calci-
ters remains and egresses from the soil cover and waste mass. um (Ca2+), magnesium (Mg2+), sodium (Na+), potassium
The quantity of potential leachate generation is the amount of (K+), ammonium (NH4+), iron (Fe2+), manganese (Mn2+),
water in excess of landfill field capacity. This method has been chloride (Cl−), sulphate (SO42-) and hydrogen carbonate
adapted and developed into other more sophisticated models (HCO3−)], heavy metals [cadmium (Cd2+), chromium (Cr3+),
like the Hydrologic Evaluation of Landfill Performance copper (Cu2+), lead (Pb2+), nickel (Ni2+) and zinc (Zn2+)] and
(HELP) by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Schroeder xenobiotic organic compounds (XOCs) and other aromatic
et al., 1994), Neural Network-based Leachate Prediction compounds are usually presence in relatively low concentra-
(NN-Leap) (Karaca and Özkaya 2006), Serial Water Balance tion, i.e. less than 1 mg/L of individual compounds. Amongst
Method (De Velásquez et al. 2003), Flow Investigation of all, contaminants like organic matters, ammoniacal-nitrogen,
Landfill Leachate (FILL) (Khanbilvardi et al. 1995) and heavy metals and colour are fundamentals in leachate quality
SOILINER (Johnson 1986). Besides, Min et al. (2010) had assessment. Predominance of these constituents in landfill
proved that MODFLOW-SURFACT can be used to estimate leachate quality is of utmost concern. Understanding of these
landfill leachate hydraulic performance as well. Amongst all, contaminants is crucial for the implementation of viable leach-
the HELP, which is free and currently at its 3.07 version, is the ate treatment designs.
most broadly utilised model. However, several studies
claimed that it should only be used for landfill design evalu- Leachate parameters
ation since the results generated over time are often inconsis-
tent with actual scenarios (Donevska et al. 2010; Min et al. Organic matters
2010; São Mateus et al. 2012; Shariatmadari et al. 2010;
Worrell and Vesilind, 2011). Organic detritus is broken down through oxidation or digested
by water-borne bacteria to produce energy for growth and
reproduction, causing scarcity of dissolved oxygen for other
Leachate quality organisms, fish in particular. Organic matter or so-called or-
ganic loading in leachate is usually determined by measuring
Although USEPA (USEPA 2010) have categorised landfill its COD, BOD and TOC. BOD, COD and TOC are measured
leachate as an excluded hazardous waste, uncontrolled by by oxidising organic matter using bacteria, chemical agents
principal hazardous waste regulations under Resource and thermal process, respectively.
Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), it is still widely COD is commonly used for discharge consent, whereas
considered as a complex naturally occurring hazardous liquid. BOD is favoured for surface water discharge consent due to
Toxicity analyses using various batteries of bioassays from its substantial impacts on flora and fauna (EPA 2000). BOD is
multiple trophic levels have concluded that municipal landfill similar to COD as they both indicate the amount of organic
leachate is genotoxic and highly ecotoxic (irrespective of its compounds in water through oxygen demand measurement.
stabilisation status), equivalent to that of industrial landfill However, BOD is more specific targeting biologically active
leachate (Emenike et al. 2012; Jemec et al. 2012; Matejczyk organic matters, whereas COD considers all chemically
Environ Sci Pollut Res

oxidisable compounds. COD level is contributed by any bio- adverse impacts on living organisms (EPA 2000; Kjeldsen
degradable organic compounds, non-biodegradable com- et al. 2002; Slack et al. 2005). It takes the nature several
pounds and inorganic oxidisable compounds (Moreno- decades to reduce the NH3-N concentration to safe level
Casillas et al. 2007). Wider variety of organic matter that (EPA 2000). Indeed, a landfill site may still produce leachate
contribute to COD also makes COD value usually greater than with high concentration of NH3-N over 50 years after filling
BOD value. In actual practise, COD is the most desirable operations have ceased (Chu et al. 1994).
alternative to BOD. COD testing only takes few hours whilst High concentration of NH3-N can stimulate algal growth,
BOD5 requires 5 days. Despite COD as an independent assay inhibit biodegradation, hinder biological treatment perfor-
from BOD, they share an empirical relationship enabling mance, restrain nitrification, reduce dissolved oxygen through
BOD value prediction using COD value (Kiepper 2010). eutrophication and have toxic effects on aquatic organisms
Moreover, BOD5/COD ratio can be utilised to assess the (Aydın and Kuleyin 2011; Bashir et al. 2010; Jokela et al.
biodegradability and the toxicity of organic compounds that 2002; Uygur and Kargı 2004). EPA (2000) also stressed that
inhibit BOD5 measurement. If the ratio is high, the sample it exhibits acute toxicity effects on salmonid and non-
contains more biodegradable materials and less toxicity or salmonid fish species at a concentration between 0.002 and
vice versa. Leachate is classified as fresh, intermediate or 10 mg/L (non-ionised ammonia).
stabilised if its BOD5/COD value is > 0.5, 0.1–0.5 or < 0.1,
respectively (Amokrane et al., 1997; Comstock et al. 2010; Heavy metals
Huo et al. 2009; Kjeldsen et al. 2002). Leachate with BOD5/
COD ratio less than 0.1 is also considered as toxic (Samudro Leachate pollution potential or ecotoxicology is usually
and Mangkoedihardjo 2010). Using BOD5/COD ratio zona- scrutinised based on metallic elements like Pb, Cd, copper
tion concept, Samudro and Mangkoedihardjo (2010) had sug- (Cu), zinc (Zn), chromium (Cr) and nickel (Ni) (Kjeldsen
gested a leachate treatment decision-making methodology et al. 2002; Øygard et al. 2007). Most heavy metals in leachate
(Fig. 8). It can be used as a reference during leachate treatment are emanated by the waste disposed in landfill, especially with
facility design. the overwhelming high-tech product consumption in current
technosphere. As discussed previously, during the acetogenic
Ammoniacal-nitrogen phase, greater metal solubility in acidic condition results in
high concentrations of metals like iron, manganese, calcium
Nitrogen compounds in leachate are organic nitrogen, ammo- and magnesium in leachate (Table 16). Heavy metals are in-
niacal-nitrogen, nitrate-nitrogen and nitrite. The nitrogen com- soluble and remain at low concentrations during the methan-
pounds are leached slowly from the breakdown of protein and ogenic stage.
other nitrogen-containing organic compounds. They are bio- Landfill leachate is one of the major anthropogenic heavy
logically interchangeable depending on ambient conditions. metal sources in nature. Many heavy metals are vital for living
Ammoniacal-nitrogen is of utmost concern to environmental- organisms. Deficiency of these essential trace elements will
ists. Ammoniacal-nitrogen (NH3-N) is identified as the major have adverse impact on their biological functions. However,
contaminant that remains in mature landfill leachate and has when they exceed the optimal levels, they may be toxic and

Fig. 8 BOD5/COD triangle BOD5/COD

zones for feasible leachate
treatment selection. Adapted from
Samudro and Mangkoedihardjo

Microbial &

Natural treatment

zone Toxic zone

(3rd Priority (1st Priority

BOD5 (mg/L) 0 Local 10 50 100 50,000 (Non-linear)

COD (mg/L) 0 Local 50 100 500 100,000 (Non-linear)
Environ Sci Pollut Res

malignant. Discharging heavy metal polluted leachate into substance in landfill leachate, leachate may appear yellow,
ecological pathways particularly waterways exposes us to brown or even black in colour (Zouboulis et al. 2004).
the risk of heavy metal contamination. These metallic ele- Several studies have stated that humic substance may bind
ments enter our food web and are ingested into our bodies with heavy metals and organic pollutants like pesticides, in-
through food and water consumptions. The worst part is secticides and herbicides in leachate and transfers them into
metals are persistent and do not break down, neither in natural the environment (Kang et al. 2002; Nanny and Ratasuk 2002).
environment nor in our bodies. They only transform from one Unfortunately, these recalcitrant compounds are harsh and
oxidation or complex state to another (Agarwal et al. 2010; hard to be treated. They cause biofouling (Yuan and Zydney
Nordberg et al., 2007). They will accumulate in our bodies 1999), hinder organic pollutant decomposition in acidic con-
until they are eliminated through gastrointestinal and renal dition (Lipczynska-Kochany and Kochany 2008), increase
excretions (Nordberg et al., 2007). Bioaccumulation of heavy coagulant demand and inhibit adsorption process. Besides,
metals in tissue over extended timescales could lead to lethal when they undergo disinfection with chlorine, they will react
toxic stress in our bodies, causing chronic health effects. The and form carcinogens like trihalomethanes and halogenic
similar scenarios occur on flora and fauna. acids (Kang et al. 2002; Katsumata et al. 2008). In short,
Literally, heavy metal concentration is relatively low in colour is a useful prognostic environmental risk assessment
mature landfill leachate compared to other water quality pa- tool for leachate because it reflects the concentration of recal-
rameters like ammoniacal-nitrogen and COD. Hence, they are citrant humic compounds in leachate.
usually of less concern in leachate treatment design. However,
the cocktail effect of these low concentrated metals has been Factors affecting leachate characteristics
underrated (Backhaus and Faust 2012; Nordberg et al., 2007).
It is strongly believed that the mixture of low concentrated Leachate generation and its composition are attributed to var-
metals may cause acute health problems, though there is still ious factors which can be categorised into landfill operation
a huge gap in the understanding of their interaction (compaction of waste, operation method, daily cover material,
mechanisms and ecotoxicity. waste/landfill age, superficial drainage, site hydrology, infil-
tration), solid waste characteristics (type and original moisture
content, water-holding capacity) and climatic conditions (rain-
Colour fall, humidity, ambient temperature, evaporation, evapotrans-
piration) (Aziz et al. 2004). However, only major factors like
Colour is a direct visual indicator for wastewater contamina- solid waste characteristics, climatic condition and landfill age
tion level. Although this may not be absolutely true, it does will be elucidated.
have a close relationship with wastewater quality. Aziz et al.
(2007) had confirmed that leachate colour is attributed to or- Solid waste composition
ganic matter in leachate. This argument is in line with other
researchers who suggested that humid substances formed Heterogeneity of solid waste characteristics in landfill contrib-
from organic materials contribute to leachate colour utes immensely to the variation of leachate characteristics
(Annadurai et al., 2004; Wu et al. 2010; Zouboulis et al. (Ehrig and Robinson 2010). Most contaminants in leachate
2004). are from the disposed waste as the waste breaks down and
Humid substances are complex macromolecular products infuses the pollutants into leachate. Only a little portion of
derived from any organic matter like animal and plant debris them is due to geochemical sources.
(like lignin, carbohydrates and proteins), microfauna, biolog- Generally, waste chemical composition or its relative pro-
ical waste and pesticides (Wu et al. 2010). Humic substances portion of putrescible matter determines the extent of bio-
are divided into three fractions namely humic acids, fulvic chemical decomposition in landfill, whilst physical waste
acids and humin according to their solubility in different pH properties like density influences water percolation through
conditions. Humic acids are not soluble in water under acidic the waste, resulted in different leachate flow rates. Owing to
conditions (pH < 2) but are soluble at higher pH. Fulvic acids this, waste with high organic and moisture contents escalates
are soluble at any pH whilst humin is not soluble at any pH. formation of extremely strong leachate (El-Fadel et al. 2002).
Humin is of less concern since it is hydrophobic. Several studies had found that organic waste minimisation
During the landfill maturation process, the biodegradable measures like segregation, waste pretreatment with
fraction of organic compounds is reduced. However, the re- composting and recycling had significant augmenting impacts
fractory humic substances, particularly humic acids and fulvic on leachate quality (Jokela et al. 2002). Even modifying or-
acids, remain ubiquitous as the major constituent of dissolved ganic waste physical properties like shredding would increase
organic matters (Christensen et al. 1994; Kang et al. 2002; surface area for biochemical process and promote waste
Wiszniowski et al. 2004). Due to high concentration of humic stabilisation (Komilis et al. 1999). However, Elagroudy et al.
Environ Sci Pollut Res

(2009) asserted that altering waste density does not do the feasible alternative factor for leachate quality prediction, in-
trick and has little effect on leachate quality. stead of the biodegradation phase.
Based on the correlation between waste composition and As a landfill becomes older, the waste encapsulated be-
leachate characteristics, scientists have recommended a review comes stabilised and the contaminants in leachate slowly taper
of current landfilling operational practices, opting for a more off. As discussed in the previous section, it shifts from accli-
cost-effective leachate treatment framework (Ehrig and mation phase towards maturation phase and leachate charac-
Robinson 2010). teristics alter in every distinct biochemical decomposition
stage. Leachate composition pattern over these stabilisation
phases is depicted in Table 9. Premised on the relationship
Climatic condition
between landfill age and stabilisation stage, generalised leach-
ate characteristics over timescales are proposed (Table 10).
Seasonal climatic variations influence leachate characteristics
Nevertheless, a word of caution, classification of leachate
by altering ambient temperature and landfill water balance.
based on landfill age is not definite.
Temperature and moisture content have immense impact on
microbial activity and subsequently affect waste biodegrada-
Landfill leachate treatments
tion efficiency in landfill. Besides, the more water input into
the waste mass, the more leachate generation.
Leachate is hazardous and detrimental. If it is discharged with-
Several studies had denoted the significance of humidity or
out proper treatment, it may cause pollution and results in cat-
moisture content in MSW stabilisation (González et al. 2011).
astrophic impacts on living organisms. Moreover, it jeopardies
Tränkler et al. (2005) found that biodegradation is slower dur-
concrete structures such as pile, beam and the piping system in
ing the dry season or in dry areas but improves during the
light of its corrosive properties (Agamuthu and H. 2008).
rainy season. The same research also claimed that over 60%
Deleterious impacts of inappropriate leachate management on
of the precipitation contributed in leachate formation. Hence,
our ecosystem are evident and have been highlighted in many
the quantity of leachate generated is dependent on water in-
literatures, albeit much of the mechanism remains unclear.
gression, especially rainfall.
Hence, leachate management is now one of the critical
In terms of the temperature, biological decomposition ap-
challenges associated with landfill operation (Méndez-
pears to be faster in higher temperature (Reinhart 1998).
Novelo et al. 2005). Leachate effluent quality has to be good
Higher temperature induces greater bacterial activity and
enough and complies with the increasingly stringent domestic
propels biochemical breakdown of solid waste. Therefore,
discharge standards, ensuring the minimal possible impact on
the leachate quality varies with temperature fluctuations.
our precious ecosystem. Table 11 shows the leachate dis-
Khattabi et al. (2002) proved this point as his hourly leachate
charge standards from different countries. Studies addressing
quality observation showed that leachate generated during
the development of feasible technologies to tackle leachate
the midday had higher electrical conductivity, chloride and
purification are significant, in order to ensure sustainable de-
velopment (Rivas et al. 2003).
To summarise, the quantity and quality of landfill leachate
However, owing to the variability in leachate characteris-
are dependent on climatic conditions. Hot and humid weather
tics, the proper design of leachate treatment systems can be
induces greater production of less contaminated landfill
complicated (Tchobanoglous et al. 1993). The treatability of
landfill leachate is governed by its composition and character-
istics. A wealth of leachate treatment technologies has been
Landfill age developed and evolved over the years. They can be organised
into three principal groups, namely leachate channelling, bio-
Studies unfolding the relationship between leachate quality logical treatments and physico-chemical treatments (Fig. 9).
and landfill age are scanty. Literally, landfill age is not the Biological treatments are efficient in removing organics,
exact factor affecting leachate quality but the biochemical de- whilst physico-chemical methods cope with the recalcitrant
composition process. Researchers tend to relate leachate qual- compounds. Brief descriptions of these technologies are
ity to landfill age but not the biodegradation process because summarised in Tables 12, 13, 14 and 15.
practically it is difficult to predict leachate quality based on Each of these techniques has its own advantages and draw-
landfill stabilisation stage. Landfill stabilisation stage determi- backs (Table 16). Therefore, leachate treatment systems often
nation requires data about its leachate or landfill gas charac- employ sequential treatment design with integration between
teristics, the information we want at the first place. Lack of physico-chemical and biological (aerobic and/or anaerobic) pro-
any information about its leachate or landfill gas characteris- cesses (Guo et al. 2010; Tatsi et al. 2003; Wiszniowski et al.
tics, determination of landfill stabilisation stage is nearly im- 2004), for example a membrane bioreactor (MBR) which incor-
possible for sanitary landfill. In other words, landfill age is a porates both biological reactor and membrane filtration in a
Environ Sci Pollut Res

Table 10 General landfill

leachate characteristics at Parameter (mg/L) Landfill age (years)
different age *No unit for pH, BOD5/COD and TOC/COD
<2 2–10 > 10

Stabilisation status Young (fresh) Intermediate Mature (stabilised)

BOD5 2000–30,000 N.A. 100–200
COD 3000–60,000 3000–15,000 100–2800
TOC 1500–20,000 N.A. 80–160
BOD5/COD 0.5–1.0 0.06–0.5 < 0.1
TOC/COD < 0.3 0.3–0.5 > 0.5
Total Kjeldahl nitrogen 100–2000 N.A. N.A.
Ammoniacal-nitrogen 10–800 30–1800 20–900
Organic nitrogen 10–800 N.A. 80–120
Nitrate 5–40 N.A. 5–10
pH 4.5–7.5 6.5–7.5 6.6–7.5
Alkalinity as CaCO3 1000–10,000 N.A. 200–1000
Total hardness as CaCO3 300–10,000 N.A. 200–500
Total suspended solids 200–2000 N.A. 100–400
Heavy metals > 2.0 < 2.0 < 2.0
Total phosphorus 5–100 N.A. 5–10
Orthophosphate 4–80 N.A. 4–8
Calcium 200–3000 N.A. 100–400
Magnesium 50–1500 N.A. 50–200
Potassium 200–1000 N.A. 50–400
Sodium 200–2500 N.A. 100–200
Chloride 200–3000 N.A. 100–400
Sulphate 50–1000 N.A. 20–50
Total iron 50–1200 N.A. 20–200

Adapted from Kurniawan et al. (2006), Fan et al. (2006), Alvarez-Vazquez et al. (2004), Tatsi and Zouboulis
(2002), Kang et al. (2002), O'Leary (2002)
N.A. not available

single operating system. Such leachate treatment system has cap- can be concluded that percentage removal of pollutants in-
tivated uprising research interest over past 10 years. creased after post-treatment.

Optimisation of SBR system for sanitary landfill

Recent development of landfill leachate treatment leachate—Egypt
Fouad et al. (2016) studied on improvement of leachate waste-
Membrane bioreactor and electro-Fenton process—India water treatment through addition of Micrococcus bacteria into
a mini-model SBR unit during aeration stage. The test was
Suresh (2016) have conducted a by using Fenton pretreated conducted by using a three-sequence SBR tank. The first tank
landfill leachate with membrane bioreactor process and then was a primary sedimentation tank which is functional for pre-
post-treated by electro-Fenton process. The pretreated values cipitation of leachate wastewater with retention time of 12 h.
of parameters were taken from previous studies which has The second tank was the first aeration tank with the function
BOD/COD ratio 0.39. Result showed that percentage removal of oxidising and fixing organic materials. Aeration and flip-
obtained for BOD, COD, ammonium nitrogen, phosphate, ping are done by using the compressed and diffused air meth-
sulphate, sulphide and chloride was 79, 75, 74, 100, 59, 66 od through perforated air pipes with a retention time of 12 h.
and 56%, respectively. After electro-Fenton followed by The third tank was the second aeration tank which the
MBR process, the percentage removal obtained for BOD, Micrococcus bacterium was added inside the tank and reten-
COD, ammonium nitrogen, phosphate, sulphate, sulphide tion time was allowed for 12 h. Three different samples were
and chloride was 74, 77, 88, 65, 66 and 83%, respectively. It collected from each tank. Samples were collected after
Table 11 Landfill leachate discharge standards for different countries

Parameter Maximum discharge standard (mg/L, unless stated otherwise)

UKa USAa, c Germanyd Canadae Francef Australiag South Koreah Japani Chinaj Hong Kongk Thailandl Malaysiam

Temperature, °C – – – 32 – – – – – 45 – 40
pH 5.5–9 6–9 – 6.5–8.5 5.5–8.5 6.5–9 – – – 6–10 5.5–9 6–9
Turbidity (NTU) – – – – – 20 – – – – – –
BOD5 – 56 20 20 30 10 – – 30 700 20 20
COD – – 200 – 120 – 50 – 100 1500 120 400
DO – – – – – >6 – – – ≥4 – –
TOC – – 10 – – 15 – 0.1 – – – –
SS – 27 – 20 30 20 – 1.0 30 700 30 50
TDS – – – – – – – – – – 3000 –
NH3-N – 4.9 – 2.0 – 0.5 50 0.5 25 5.0 – 5.00
Total nitrogen – – 70 – – 5 – 0.05 40 100 – –
Inorganic nitrogen – – – – – – 150 – – – – –
TKN – – – – 30 – – – – – 100 –
Mercury, Hg 0.001 – 0.05 0.001 – 0.0001 – 0.0005 0.001 0.1 – 0.005
Aluminium, Al – – – 0.5 – – – 0.2 – – – –
Cadmium, Cd 0.005 – 0.1 0.05 – 0.002 – – 0.01 0.1 0.03 0.01
Chromium, Cr (III) 0.25 0.46 0.5 0.5 – – – – 0.1 2.0 – 0.20
Chromium, Cr (IV) – – – – – –
Chromium, Cr (V) – 0.0044 – – – –
Chromium, Cr (VI) – – – 0.02 – 0.05
Nickel, Ni 0.2 – 1.0 0.5 – 0.15 – – – 2.0 1.00 0.20
Lead, Pb 0.25 – 0.5 0.1 – 0.005 – – 0.1 2.0 0.20 0.10
Copper, Cu 0.05 – 0.5 0.1 – 0.01 – – – 2.0 2.00 0.20
Zinc, Zn 5.0 0.296 2.0 0.2 – 0.05 – – – 2.0 5.00 2.00
Arsenic, As 0.05 0.54 – 0.1 – 0.05 – – 0.1 2.0 – 0.05
Cyanide 0.005 – 0.2 0.1 – – – 0.1 – 1.0 – 0.05
Magnesium, Mg – – – – – – – 0.1 – – – –
Manganese, Mn – – – 0.5 – – – 0.1 – 0.5 5.0 0.20
Phosphorus, P – – 3.0 – – 0.5 – 3.0 3.0 10.0 – –
Tin, Sn – – – 0.5 – – – 0.001 – – – 0.20
Boron, B 7.0 – – 10.0 – – – 0.3 – 10.0 – 1.00
Iron, Fe 2.0 – – – 10.0 1.0 – 0.1 – 20.0 – 5.00
Silver, Ag 0.0001 – – – – 0.0001 – – – 0.1 – 0.10
Selenium, Se – – – 0.05 – 0.005 – – – 0.1 – 0.02
Environ Sci Pollut Res
Table 11 (continued)

Parameter Maximum discharge standard (mg/L, unless stated otherwise)

UKa USAa, c Germanyd Canadae Francef Australiag South Koreah Japani Chinaj Hong Kongk Thailandl Malaysiam

Barium, Ba – – – 1.0 – – – 0.1 – 6.0 – 1.00

Environ Sci Pollut Res

Total toxic metals – – – – – – – – – 4.0 – –

Fluoride 15.0 – – 15.0 – – – 0.02 – 10.0 – 2.00
Formaldehyde 0.05 – – – – – – – – – – 1.00
Phenol 0.3 0.029 – 0.2 – 0.05 – 5.0 ng/L – 0.5 – 0.001
Sulphide – – 1.0 – – – – 0.1 – 5.0 – 0.50
Oil and grease – – – 10.0 – – – – – 50.0 – 5.00
Colour – – – – – – 2000 K2PtCl6 – 40 (dilution 4.0 Lovibond – 100
multiple units ADMI
method) (25 mm length) (American Dye

– not available
Maximum monthly average
Environment Agency (2008)
EPA (2000)
Stegmann et al. (2005)
Oliver (2005)
Trebouet et al. (2001)
Ngo et al. (2008)
Ahn et al. (2002)
Kashiwadai et al. (2007)
MEP and GAQSIQ (2008)
Water Pollution Control Ordinance (1997)
Rukapan (2007)
Environmental Quality (Control of Pollution from Solid Waste Transfer Station and Landfill) Regulations (2009)
Environ Sci Pollut Res

Landfill Leachate Treatment Methods

Leachate channelling Biological methods Physical/Chemical methods

Combined treatment with Aerobic treatment Anaerobic treatment Coagulation-flocculation

domestic sewage

Recirculation Suspended growth Attached growth Suspended growth Attached growth Chemical precipitation
biomass system biomass system biomass system biomass system

Anaerobic Air stripping

Activated sludge Rotating biological
sequencing batch Anaerobic filter
process contactor
reactor (ASBR) Electrochemical process
Upflow anaerobic
Sequencing batch Trickling filter sludge blanket Hybrid filter Chemical oxidation
reactor (SBR) reactor (UASB)
Ion exchange
Moving bed Anaerobic
Aerated lagoon biofilm reactor fluidised bed Sand filtration
(MBBR) filter
Membrane filtration
Reed bed

Fig. 9 Hierarchy of landfill leachate treatments

constant retention times at 6, 9 and 12 h. For all samples, enough pressure to maintain the liquid state of water). Apart
physico-chemical parameters were measured including from this, the study by using response surface methodology
COD, BOD, total suspended solids (TSS), pH, total Kjeldahl (RSM) also was conducted to determine what parameter (tem-
nitrogen (TKN), total phosphorus (TP) and NH3-N. Results of perature, residence time and hydrogen peroxide concentra-
the test show that SBR without bacterial additive has de- tion) played the most important role. Based on results obtain-
creased the COD, BOD and TSS by 91.7, 90.4 and 92.9%, ed, the reduction of COD obtained was at 300 °C, 500 mM
respectively. However, by applying the bacterial additive in H2O2 and 180 min residence time. It was determined that the
SBR, the COD, BOD, TSS, TKN and NH3-N tend to decrease combination of oxidant concentration and temperature is the
by 97.9, 98.0, 98.3, 90.5 and 95.1%, respectively. rate-determining factor, whereas residence time has a lesser
effect on the process.
Landfill leachate treatment by hydrogen peroxide—Greece
Hydrated lime and caustic soda—Malaysia
Kirmizakis et al. (2014) studied about reduction of the organic
load of a mature landfill leachate by applying hydrogen per- Hanira et al. (2017) in their study have investigated the uses
oxide under subcritical condition using novel experiment set- of hydrated lime (Ca(OH)2) and caustic soda (NaOH) as a
up. Procedure of experiment was carried out by filling the softener agent in the removal of NH3-N, COD and colour in
leachate onto laboratory-scale, stainless steel reactors and also a jar test experiment which was performed using Ca(OH)2
by adding appropriate quantities of hydrogen peroxide. The and NaOH at varying dosages ranging from nil to 12 g L−.
purpose of using hydrogen peroxide is to produce hydroxyl Ca(OH)2 and NaOH have the potential of increasing the pH
radicals that are highly reactive and oxidise the organic mol- of the treatment process. The RSM was also used to predict
ecules of the leachate which can be archived under subcritical the optimum dosage and suitable types of chemicals for the
condition (temperature in the range of 100–374 °C with removal of NH3-N, COD and colour. The results obtained

Table 12 Description of leachate channelling methods

Leachate channelling

Method Brief description

Combined treatment with domestic sewage At location where a landfill is near a wastewater collection system, leachate is piped into the sewer
system and undergoes treatment with domestic sewage at conventional wastewater treatment plant
Recirculation Leachate is transferred from the base of landfill back to the tip. It infiltrates into waste body again to
enhance decomposition and eventually improves leachate quality
Environ Sci Pollut Res

Table 13 Description of aerobic biological leachate treatment methods

Biological methods (aerobic treatment)

Method Brief description

Suspended growth biomass system A system where the bacteria grow and are suspended in the reactor liquid. It usually has
sludge that is considered to be granular or flocculent in nature (often both granular and
flocculent sludges coexist in a reactor)
Activated sludge process Microorganisms develop in a tank injected with oxygen forming biological flocs (mixed liquor).
The microorganisms which are in suspension in the mixture consume the organic matter in
leachate and transform it into new microbial biomass, carbon dioxide and water. Subsequently,
it reduces the organic content in leachate. At the clarifier or settling tank, sludge settles and
the supernatant is discharged as effluent. A portion of the sludge is returned to the aeration tank
to re-seed incoming leachate with microorganism. The excess sludge is removed. Generally,
the reactions that take place in an activated sludge are absorption of soluble, colloidal and
suspended organics on sludge flocs, biodegradation (oxidation) of organics, bacteria ingestion
by protozoa, oxidation of ammonium to nitrite and nitrate as well as denitrification
Sequencing batch reactor (SBR) Microorganisms are in suspension just like in the activated sludge. However, the major difference
is that aeration and sludge settlement take place in the same tank in a batch mode based on cycle
of operations. A SBR is therefore designed to operate under non-steady state condition unlike
the conventional activated sludge which operates under a continuous flow process. The cycles
comprise periods for leachate filling, aeration, settling and decanting. Leachate filling (loading)
is the intake of influent leachate in the SBR tank where microorganisms will have contact with
organic substances. Then, oxygen is injected to facilitate substrate consumption by
microorganism (biodegradation) as well as nitrification. After aeration, solid-liquid
separation takes place and the sludge settles leaving clear treated effluent above the
sludge blanket. Decanting (extraction) withdraws the treated effluent from the reactor
without disturbing the settled sludge.
Aerated lagoon An aerated lagoon is normally an artificial pond with microorganisms just like in an activated
sludge reactor. Dissolved oxygen is present throughout much of its depth. However,
it can exist naturally as well
Reed bed Also known as wetland normally has a gentle sloping bed lined with impermeable barrier and
planted with emergent hydrophytes such as reeds (phragmites), bulrush (scirpus) or cattails
(typha). The inlet and outlet zones are usually constructed of crushed stones. As the leachate
travels slowly through the bed following a horizontal flow path, oxygen diffuses into the beds
then aerobic bacteria around the reed rhizomes uses it to oxidise organics in leachate.
The gravel or soil in which the reeds grow also acts as a filter medium
Attached growth biomass system Either fixed film or carried media (the latter suspended in the liquid) is utilised in the system
to provide a space for the bacteria to grow and attach to
Rotating biological contactor A rotating biological contactor is also known as a biorotor. It has circular plastic discs mounted
on a shaft which partially submerged in a tank containing leachate. As the shaft is slowly
rotated, the leachate passes over the disc surface. The microorganisms adhere to the disc and
start consuming organics in leachate, assimilating and treating the organics. Aerobic condition
is maintained. The disc provides contact between microorganisms and the leachate, whilst
mixing and aerating the mixed liquor
Trickling filter A trickling filter or so-called biological aerated filter consists of a bed of highly permeable media,
a water distributor and an under drain system. Microorganisms attached on the filter medium
like rocks, plastic and wood consume organic matters in leachate as food and degrade them.
It provides a surface for the microorganisms and hold back suspended solids acting as a
biological contactor as well as a filter, eliminating the need for a separate sedimentation step.
Typically, the filter bed is circular with varying depths from 0.9 to 2.5 m with an average
of 1.8 m. It is generally believed that it can achieve better nitrification compared to activated
sludge operations. Simultaneous removal of carbon and nitrogen is possible in a trickling filter
Moving bed biofilm reactor (MBBR) MBBR is also known as suspended-carrier biofilm reactor (SCBR) or fluidised bed reactor.
MBBR process is based on the use of continuously moving suspended porous polymeric
carriers for microorganism attachment in aeration tank. Microorganisms attach themselves
and grow on a plastic biofilm carrier or biocarrier that are suspended and in continuous
movement within the reactor on a specified volume. The biocarriers are designed for good
mass transfer of substrate and oxygen to the microorganisms. At the settling tank, sludge
settles and the supernatant is discharged as effluent. A portion of the sludge is returned to
the aeration tank to re-seed incoming leachate with microorganism
Environ Sci Pollut Res

Table 14 Description of anaerobic biological leachate treatment methods

Biological methods (anaerobic treatment)

Method Brief description

Suspended growth biomass system As discussed

Anaerobic sequencing batch reactor (ASBR) It is similar to aforementioned SBR but in anaerobic condition
Upflow anaerobic sludge blanket reactor (UASB) UASB involves an upward passage of leachate through an anaerobic sludge bed in a tank.
As the leachate passes through the sludge, microorganisms in the sludge consume and
degrade organics in the leachate. Eventually, biogas (methane and carbon dioxide) is
produced. As the gas moves upwards to escape, hydraulic turbulence takes place in
the reactor prompting mixing to enable more contact between microorganisms and
substrate. This enhances biodegradation. The gas is collected at the top of the reactor.
The sludge settles and the supernatant is discharged as effluent
Anaerobic filter It has a filter medium which anaerobic bacteria populations can establish upon and
then degrade organic substances in leachate as it moves slowly across the medium.
The filter medium acts as a biological contactor as well as a filter, eliminating the
need for a separate sedimentation step. Eventually, biogas (methane and carbon dioxide)
is produced at the same time
Hybrid filter Hybrid bed filter consists of an anaerobic filter on top and an up-flow sludge blanket at
the bottom. It acts as a solid-gas separator and enhances solid’s retention without causing
channelling or short circuit. Its solid removal is enhanced by maximising microorganism
population in the reactor
Anaerobic fluidised bed filter It is similar to aforementioned fluidised bed filter but in an anaerobic condition

showed that optimum conditions obtained from desirable re- Mn and Ce oxide-impregnated GAC–ozone treatment
sponse for Ca(OH)2 were at 5.9 g L−1 of dosage, where NH3- process—Taiwan
N, COD and colour were successfully reduced up 52, 17.5
and 65%, respectively. In contrast, the optimum conditions Wang et al. (2015) in their research studied treatability of
obtained from desirable response for NaOH were at 6.4 g L−1 landfill leachate by using Mn and Ce oxide-impregnated
of dosage, where NH3-N, COD and colour were successfully granular activated carbons (MnCe-ACs) with ozone pro-
remove up to 35, 2 and 49%, respectively. cess (MnCe-AC/O3). Several treatment processes were
studied in this research for comparative study including
granular activated carbon (GAC), MnCe-AC, O3, GAC/
Coupling anammox and advanced oxidation-based O3 and MnCe-AC/O3 processes. The MnCe-AC/O3 pro-
technologies—Spain cess developed in this research combines both the advan-
tages of MnCe-AC (adsorption and catalytic properties)
A study conducted by Anfruns et al. (2013) evaluated the and ozone (oxidation property). Eight MnCe-ACs are de-
suitability of combination of anammox process with ad- veloped and prepared in this research. Experimental results
vanced oxidation processes (AOPs) in treating of landfill indicate that MnCe-AC/O3 processes could effectively re-
leachate with high nitrogen and non-biodegradable organic duce humic acid, TOC and COD in the landfill leachate to
matter concentration. This partial nitration-anammox sys- desired levels. Results also show that the highest removal
tem coupled with combination of coagulation/flocculation, efficiency is MnCe-AC/O 3 , followed by GAC/O 3, O 3 ,
ozonation and photo-Fenton was assessed in terms of ni- MnCe-AC and GAC.
trogen and carbon removal. The results obtained indicated
that total nitrogen removal efficiency achieved in the range
of 87–89% with both configuration without any external Alternative MSW management in Malaysia
carbon source. The COD removal efficiencies obtained
was 91% with combined coagulation/flocculation and In order to meet the demand and aspiration of government
ozonation process whilst 98% with photo-Fenton. This to reduce the dependent of landfill for disposing of MSW,
study proves that the combination of partial nitration- other alternative has been initiated by the government of
anammox system with photo-Fenton treatment is more ef- Malaysia. Some of these alternative methods are recycling,
ficient compared to coagulation/flocculation and ozonation WTE, incineration, biological treatment/composting and
treatment. landfill gas recovery system (LFGRS).
Environ Sci Pollut Res

Table 15 Description of physico-chemical leachate treatment methods

Physical/chemical methods

Method Brief description

Coagulation-flocculation Coagulation and flocculation are used for the removal of impurities in the form of suspension or colloid. Coagulants like salts
of iron or aluminium are usually added at controlled pH values to form floc, the solid precipitates containing colloidal
particles which can be separated out using conventional solid-liquid separation processes. Flocculation encourages floc
growth by gentle mixing to help the subsequent separation process. Coagulant aids (often polyelectrolyte compounds) may
be added to improve coagulation by promoting the development of large, rapid-setting flocs
Flotation Flotation or dissolved air flotation (DAF) exploits the ability of some substances to float on leachate surface e on their own or
with the aid of air bubbles from below. It removes colloids, ions, macromolecules, microorganism and fibres from the
leachate. The solid particles are attached to small air bubbles and float to the surface, forming a scum/sludge layer which
can be removed by mechanical scrapers or scoops. Attraction between the air bubbles and the particles is due to the
adsorption forces or physical entrapment of bubbles within the particle, colloid or floc
Chemical precipitation Chemicals like hydrated lime, quicklime, magnesium hydroxide and sodium hydroxide are usually used to precipitate heavy
metals as hydroxides. The hydrated lime, Ca(OH)2, is most widely used and is generally the cheapest. Addition of alkali is
often required, to adjust its pH value to a point where the solubility of the metal of interest is minimal
Adsorption Adsorption is the adhesion of a substance from a liquid phase onto the surface of a solid material. Various adsorbent materials
can be used for leachate treatment. However, activated carbon is the most broadly used absorbent. Activated carbon is
normally used in either a powdered form (powdered activated carbon) or in a granular form (granular activated carbon)
Air stripping Ammonia stripping
This is a physico-chemical process which removes ammonia as a gas from leachate. Ammonia dissolves in water to form the
ammonium ion in the following manner:
NH3 + H2O = NH4+ + OH−
The relative proportions of dissolved ammonia gas and ammonium ions depend on the ph value and the temperature of the
leachate. Only the ammonia form is removed (as ammonia gas) by air stripping. At normal temperatures and neutral pH
values in leachate, only a small proportion (< 2%) of the total ammoniacal-nitrogen will be in the gaseous ammonia form.
High pH values are achieved by the addition of chemicals, e.g. calcium hydroxide. As ammonium ion is converted to
ammonia gas, leachate is cascaded down to allow the gas come out of solution and escape into the air. The air and gas are
then treated with H2SO4 which absorbs the gas. It removes a constant percentage of the incoming ammonia, regardless of
influent concentrations in leachate. Therefore, the progressive removal of ammoniacal-N is operating in a “half-life”
Methane stripping
The partition of methane between dissolved and gaseous phases is governed by Henry’s Law. Therefore, removal of methane
gas from solution using the passage of air bubbles through the leachate will operate on a “half-life” principle. It means
passage of a given volume of air through a given volume of leachate will reduce concentrations of dissolved methane by a
fixed proportion
Electrochemical process Electrochemical processes for leachate treatment include electro-coagulation/electro-flocculation, electro-flotation and
electro-oxidation. The electrodes placed in the leachate can be aluminium or iron. With the application of an electric
current, coagulants are formed by the dissolution of the anode. For electro-flotation, small bubbles are formed. Hydrogen
gas is generated at the cathode and oxygen at the anode. Aluminium and iron precipitates formed can be removed by
sedimentation or by flotation. Besides, the oxidation of organic substances and ammoniacal-nitrogen can occur directly at
the anode or indirectly from the degradable content of the solution
Chemical oxidation Oxidation involves the loss of one or more electrons from the element being oxidised with the electron acceptor being another
element. These electron acceptors include an oxygen molecule or a chemical species containing oxygen. These electron
acceptors or oxidants directly react and mineralise contaminants
Advanced oxidation process (AOP)
AOP have been proposed in recent years as an effective alternative for mineralisation of recalcitrant organics in landfill
leachate. AOP enhance the chemical oxidation potentials by increasing the generation of the hydroxyl radicals. For landfill
leachate treatment, a limited range of oxidants, primarily ozone (O3) and hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) have found to be
successful. Use of others has been limited by the concerns about formation of toxic reaction by-products. For example,
chlorine and chlorine compounds give rise to trihalomethanes or other halogenated compounds
In addition, most AOP use a combination of strong oxidants like O3 and H2O2; irradiation like ultra-violet (UV), ultra-sound
(US) or electron beam (EB); and catalyst like transition metal ions or photocatalyst. Combinations like hydrogen peroxide
and Fenton process (H2O2/Fe2+), O3/UV, H2O2/UV, UV/Fe2+ and UV/TiO2 are no stranger to leachate treatment
Ion exchange Ion exchange removes ions from an aqueous solution by the exchange of anions or cations between contaminants and the
exchange medium. It is a reversible interchange of ions between the solid and liquid phases with no permanent change in
the solid structure. Typically, ion exchange materials consist of resins made from synthetic organic materials with ionic
functional groups. Exchangeable ions are attached to these ionic functional groups. They may also be inorganic or natural
polymeric materials
Sand filtration Sand filtration involves the passage of the effluent through a high quality sand media with a specific particle size range
between 0.8 and 1.7 mm. The application of sand filtration processes of any sort to raw leachates will rarely be appropriate.
Environ Sci Pollut Res

Table 15 (continued)

Physical/chemical methods

Method Brief description

Fixed bed sand filters, where a media (usually graded sand) traps and removes suspended solids from water passing
through the media, may operate using gravity to drive water downwards or by means of pressure applied from a pump
Membrane filtration Membrane technology is the application of membrane materials for the separation of two solutions with different
concentrations by a semi-permeable membrane. Pressure is induced to the more concentrated solution (leachate) to force
water to the one of lower concentration, whilst most of the leachate compounds are well retained. However, the degree of
retention varies depending on the membrane filtration scale (Fig. 10). Microfiltration (MF), ultrafiltration (UF),
nanofiltration (NF) and reverse osmosis (RO) are typical examples of membrane technology
Microfiltration is a low-pressure cross-flow membrane process for separating colloidal and suspended particles in the range of
0.05–10 μm. The membrane configuration is usually in cross-flow where the leachate is circulated parallel or tangential to
the membrane surface, ensuring limited clogging unlike in a frontal or dead-end filtration. As a result of the membrane pore
sizes, passage of some organic substances and minerals is allowed. Therefore, MF cannot be used alone in leachate
treatment. However, it can be used as pretreatment for other membrane processes like UF, NF or RO.
Ultrafiltration is a membrane separation process similar to microfiltration, but with smaller pore sizes, in the range of
0.01–0.1 μm. It is a selective fractionation process utilising pressures up to 10 bar. Its configuration is usually in cross-flow
as well. It is effective in eliminating macromolecules and particles, but it is strongly dependent on the type of material
constituting the membrane. Although it allows the passage of low molecular weight organic solutes and salts through its
membrane, it can be used as pretreatment for reverse osmosis since it can remove the larger molecular weight compounds
that tend to disrupt (foul) the RO membrane
Nanofiltration is another pressure-driven membrane separation process with cross-flow membrane configuration. In NF, only
water and substances with molecular weight less than 200 Da (1 Da = 1.66 E-27 kg) permeate the semi-permeable
separation layer. Besides, NF membranes have a selectivity of charge for dissolved components. Monovalent ions and
water permeate, whilst divalent and multivalent ions are retained
Reverse osmosis
It is also another cross-flow pressure-driven membrane process like MF, UF and NF. The membrane pore sizes are much
smaller compared to those of NF, thus allowing only tiny amount of very low molecular weight solutes (ammonia and small
chlorinated organic compounds) to pass through. The process exploits the natural phenomenon of osmosis whereby if two
aqueous solutions, with different degree of concentration, are separated by a semi-permeable membrane, water from the
weakest solution will pass through the membrane to dilute the higher concentration solution. The process will continue till
solutions on both side of the membrane display the same degree of concentration. With reverse osmosis, the process is
reversed. Pressure is applied to leachate against a semi-permeable membrane forcing the water molecules to pass through
the membrane, thus forming the clean “permeate”. The majority of the solutes or contaminants will be left behind forming
the “concentrate”.
In contrast to normal filtration where solids are eliminated from a liquid, reverse osmosis succeeds in removing solutes from a
solvent. It has the ability to concentrate all dissolved and suspended solids, retaining more than 98% of large molecules
dissolved in leachate. The permeate contains a very low concentration of dissolved solids. It has been reported to be a very
efficient and promising method for leachate treatment. This process is in use throughout Europe including Germany,
France, Holland, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal and Greece (Environmental Agency, 2007)

Dissolved salts Organic macromolecules Bacteria
Viruses Pollen

0.0001 0.001 0.01 0.1 1 10 100 Size (µm)

10-120 bar Nanofiltration
5-10 bar Ultrafiltration
1-10 bar Microfiltration
0.2-5 bar Sand/Gravel filtration

Fig. 10 Filtration scale comparison

Table 16 Summary of landfill leachate treatments’ performance

Method Target Performance Remarks

Leachate Average removal Economical Skilled Secondary Pretreatment Installation
use of space personnel clarifier required and
Young Medium Old BOD COD TKN SS Turbidity requirement required operational
Environ Sci Pollut Res


(a) Leachate
Combined Suspended Good Fair Poor Depending on domestic Good Less No No Less Excess biomass
treatment solid wastewater treatment expensive and nutrients;
with domestic plant possible
sewage toxicity
to microbes
Recirculation (Improve Good Fair Poor > 90 60–80 – – – Good Less No No Less Least expensive
leachate expensive and low
quality) efficiency
(b) Biological
Activated Organics Good Fair Poor – 50–90 – – – Poor More No No Expensive Defoaming
sludge additives may
process be necessary;
by refractory
compound and
excess biomass;
settleability and
longer aeration
times; high
demand; costly
Sequencing Organics Good Fair Poor – – 50–70 – – Good More Yes No Less Similar to
batch reactor expensive activated
(SBR) sludge but no
only in
low flow rates;
Table 16 (continued)

Method Target Performance Remarks

Leachate Average removal Economical Skilled Secondary Pretreatment Installation
use of space personnel clarifier required and
Young Medium Old BOD COD TKN SS Turbidity requirement required operational

hampered by
compound and
excess biomass
Aerated lagoon Organics Good Fair Poor 80 40–95 > 80 30–40 30–40 Poor Less Yes Yes Expensive Requires large
area; hampered
compound and
excess biomass
Reed bed Organics Fair Fair Good – – – – – Poor Less Yes No Less Hampered by
expensive refractory
compound and
excess biomass
Trickling filter Organics Good Fair Fair – – – – – Good Less Yes Yes Expensive Hampered by
compound and
excess biomass
Rotating Organics Good Fair Poor – – – – Good Less Yes Yes Expensive Hampered by
biological refractory
contactor compound and
excess biomass;
adhesion of
metals inhibits
activities; high
energy demand;
Moving bed Organics Good Fair Poor – 20–80 – – – Poor More No No Expensive Hampered by
biofilm refractory
reactor compound and
(MBBR) excess biomass
Anaerobic Organics Good Fair Fair – 60–75 – – – Good More Yes No Less Hampered by
sequencing expensive refractory
batch reactor compound;
Environ Sci Pollut Res
Table 16 (continued)

Method Target Performance Remarks

Leachate Average removal Economical Skilled Secondary Pretreatment Installation
use of space personnel clarifier required and
Young Medium Old BOD COD TKN SS Turbidity requirement required operational
Environ Sci Pollut Res


long time
and biogas
Upflow anaerobic Organics Good Fair Fair – 50–90 – – – Good Less Yes No Less Hampered by
sludge blanket expensive refractory
reactor (UASB) compound;
long time
and biogas
Anaerobic filter Organics Good Fair Fair – 60–95 – – – Good Less Yes Yes Expensive Hampered by
long time
and biogas
Hybrid filter Organics Good Fair Fair – 55–90 – – – Good Less Yes Yes Expensive Hampered by
long time
and biogas
Anaerobic Organics Good Fair Fair – – – – – Good Less Yes Yes Expensive Hampered by
fluidised refractory
bed filter compound;
long time
and biogas
Anaerobic Organics Good Fair Poor – – – – – Poor Less Yes Yes Expensive Lower power
lagoon requirements
and sludge
than aerobic
heating; greater
potential for
slower than
aerobic systems
Membrane Organics Good Fair Fair > 80 > 85 > 80 > 99 40–60 Poor More No No Expensive Subject to fouling
Table 16 (continued)

Method Target Performance Remarks

Leachate Average removal Economical Skilled Secondary Pretreatment Installation
use of space personnel clarifier required and
Young Medium Old BOD COD TKN SS Turbidity requirement required operational

I. Physical/chemical
Coagulation- Heavy Poor Fair Fair – 40–60 < 30 > 80 > 80 Fair More No Yes Less High sludge
flocculation metals and expensive production and
suspended subsequent
solids disposal as
Flotation Suspended Poor Fair Fair Poor Less No No Expensive Of limited
matter applicability
alone; may
be used in
with other
high capital
Ammonia/air Ammonia Poor Fair Fair – < 30 > 80 – 30–40 Poor More Yes Yes Expensive May require air
stripping or volatile pollution
organics control
Chemical Heavy metals, Poor Fair Poor – < 30 < 30 30–40 > 80 Fair More No Yes Less Produces sludge,
precipitation NH3-N and expensive possibly
some requires
anions disposal as
Adsorption Organic Poor Fair Good > 80 70–90 – – 50–70 Good More Yes Yes Less Carbon fouling
compounds expensive can be a
variable costs
depending on
leachate; GAC
is costly
Chemical Organics; Poor Fair Fair – 30–90 – – > 80 Good More No Yes Expensive Works best on
oxidation detoxification dilute waste
Environ Sci Pollut Res
Table 16 (continued)

Method Target Performance Remarks

Leachate Average removal Economical Skilled Secondary Pretreatment Installation
use of space personnel clarifier required and
Young Medium Old BOD COD TKN SS Turbidity requirement required operational
Environ Sci Pollut Res


of some stream; use

inorganic of chlorine
species can result in
formation of
problem like
O3 for
require rigorous
high energy
Electrro-chemical Suspended Poor Fair Fair – – – – – Fair More No Yes Expensive Metal selective;
process solids and costly; no
some chemical is
inorganics required; high
Microfiltration Suspended Poor Poor Poor – – – – – Good Less No No Expensive Useful only
solids as a polishing
step; used
after metal
Ultrafiltration Bacteria Poor Fair Fair – 50 60–80 > 99 > 99 Good Less No No Expensive Subject to fouling;
and high of limited
molecular applicability
weight to leachate;
organics costly
Nanofiltration Sulphate Good Good Good 80 60–80 60–80 > 99 > 99 Good Less Yes No Expensive Useful only
salts and as polishing
hardness step; costly;
ions, like requires lower
Table 16 (continued)

Method Target Performance Remarks

Leachate Average removal Economical Skilled Secondary Pretreatment Installation
use of space personnel clarifier required and
Young Medium Old BOD COD TKN SS Turbidity requirement required operational

Ca(II) and pressure

Mg(II) than R0
Reverse Dilute solutions Good Good Good > 90 > 90 > 90 > 99 > 99 Good Less Yes No Expensive Costly; extensive
osmosis of organic pretreatment
and inorganic necessary
Sand Suspended Poor Poor Poor – – – – – Good Less No No Expensive High initial
filtration matter capital cost
and requires a
high degree of
control; useful
only as
polishing step
Ion exchange Dissolved Poor Fair Fair – – – – – Good More Yes Yes Expensive Useful as
inorganics, polishing
anions/cations step after
due to high
of anions and
cations; costly;
of materials
Environ Sci Pollut Res
Environ Sci Pollut Res

Recycling do that. This group of people also believe that issues of solid
waste management are under responsible of local authority
Recycling is the way of separating of separating of domestic without engagement from them. The study also concludes that
waste, glass, paper and other material to be reused back by the an increase of willingness to recycle is influenced by the
industrial from benefit purposed (Zen et al., 2014). In recycling incentives and programs which can be improved
Malaysia, about 80% of municipal solid are recyclable which by environmental policies of government and local
is ideal for reducing total disposed waste quantities. authorities.
Household is the main target for recycling as 70–80% of total
solid waste composition found in landfill is from household
(Moh & Manaf, 2014). Malaysia has targeting to archive 22% Conclusions
of total solid waste recycled by 2020 compared to current
recycling rate which is only 5%. The history of recycling in Over the years, various sustainable landfill leachate treatment
Malaysia is begun in January 1993 through the National techniques have been proposed and tested for treating highly
Recycling Camping in order to encourage household polluted leachate. At this point, here are some of the key
recycling activity. The result of the first recycling camping is points from the extensive discussions regarding sustainable
low which is caused from the lack of participation from public landfill leachate treatment:
due to poor public awareness and promotion program, lack of
commitment personal of authority and improper of master & Refractory compounds in leachate always change over
plan focusing on recycling (Moh & Manaf, 2014). This result times due to human activities. Therefore, modification of
in the second nationwide camping which has been launched existing treatment technique may be viable to ensure the
on 2 December 2000 with the participation of large counter- treatment efficiency is consistent and in accordance to the
part including local authorities, business enterprises, commer- regulatory standards.
cial center, education institution and private solid waste con- & There has been a steady progress of new and advanced
cessionaires. From time to time, Malaysian government has sustainable landfill leachate treatment which has been
put more effort to enhance recycling activity by emphasising proven to be a promising alternative.
the recycling activity in the National Policy of Solid Waste & Utilising of advanced waste disposal method such as in-
Management by using the concept and approach of 3Rs. In cineration and recycling may be opted to mitigate the gen-
addition, the launching of the Solid Waste Management and eration of landfill leachate.
Public Cleansing Act 2007 (Act 672) has emphasised the & Though there are still uncertainties whether these tech-
household in Malaysia to conduct waste separation starting niques could enhance environmental sustainability and
at their homes with a fine of 1000 Ringgit being imposed on safety of human being, more work should be done to en-
households that disregarded the law (Zen et al., 2014). sure a livelihood of human being and earth coexistence.
Several studies and reviews have been conducted by & Therefore, a holistic approach is essential in finding a
previous researchers on recycling which focus on factor suitable leachate treatment opportunity in order to adhere
affecting the efficiency of recycling activities. A study to regulatory standard by authorities.
conducted by Zen et al. (2014) which determined underlying
factors that involve in recycling, besides classifying those re- Acknowledgements This research is supported by Solid Waste
cyclers and non-recycles group. The study revealed that effi- Management Cluster (SWAM), Grant No.1001/CKT/870023, courtesy
ciency of recycle that differentiate between recyclers and non- from Science and Engineering Research Center (SERC) Universiti
Sains Malaysia.
recycles group depends on socioeconomic level, awareness
level and knowledge-related recycling. The study aimed to
examine the recycling behaviour on urban household in deter-
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