All About Landfills: Uses, Types, and More

Updated July 2021

Landfills are a tool used to handle the disposal of different types of waste in any industrialized society and regulated by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). When handling hazardous waste, the EPA encourages source reduction instead of landfills. For some items, like Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF), incineration is the recommended disposal method.

However, the reality of industrial societies means that the generation of hazardous waste is unavoidable, which makes this waste management a necessity.

Landfill Basics

Landfills are located, designed, operated, and monitored to ensure compliance with federal regulations. They are also designed to protect the environment from contaminants, which may be present in the waste stream.

Landfills cannot be built in environmentally-sensitive areas; as such, they are placed using on-site environmental monitoring systems. These systems check for any signs of groundwater contamination or landfill gas while providing additional safeguards. Today’s landfills must meet stringent design, operation, and closure requirements established under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).

The RCRA set the first requirements for landfills in 1976. Now, in 2021, “environmentally sensitive” area requirements have broadened quite a bit. This list of requirements has really cut down on the number of potential areas to accommodate hazardous material. Landfills are regulated sections of the RCRA (subtitle D-solid waste) and Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Subtitle C.

Types of Landfills

There are 3 main categories of landfills: Municipal Solid Waste Landfills (MSWLFs), Industrial Waste Landfills, and Hazardous Waste landfills.

MSWLFs were created to dispose of household waste and other types of nonhazardous waste. Bioreactor landfills are a subcategory of MSWLFs. These landfills rapidly transform and degrade organic waste.

Industrial Waste Landfills collect commercial and institutional waste. Even in smaller cities or suburbs, commercial and institutional waste make up a large portion of solid waste and must be disposed of.  Subcategories of industrial waste landfills include:

Hazardous Waste Landfills specialize in hazardous waste disposal. The exact opposite of MSWLFs, these landfills do not collect solid waste; rather, they focus on materials that may be dangerous or destructive.  Related to hazardous waste landfills are polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) landfills, which exclusively work with PCB and related materials.

If a landfill is required as part of your hazardous waste disposal plant, do your due diligence and confirm that they meet your (and the EPA’s) requirements for the characteristics of your waste. Checking with an expert is crucial in these matters to ensure compliance and avoid potential fines.

For assistance with hazardous waste disposal or management for your organization, please contact HWH Environmental at 1-866-483-3478.