All About Landfills: Uses, Types, and More

Landfills are a tool used to handle the disposal of different types of waste in any industrialized society and are regulated by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 

When handling hazardous waste, the EPA encourages source reduction instead of landfills.

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

What is a Landfill?

Landfills are sites designed to contain household trash that remain sealed to prevent any contaminants in wastewater. This requires levels of clay, and flexible plastic that creates leachate to help draw out toxins from the waste.

Trash collectors dump the garbage into the landfill and push it down to compress the waste. As some of the waste decomposes, methane gas is funneled through pipes to vents, burners, or energy sources.

As of February of 2023, there are approximately 1,250 landfills in the United States with a majority of them in the Southern and Midwestern United States. These numbers have decreased significantly since the 1990’s in part because more landfills were closing than opening.

Oversight of landfills falls under the state and local government level, although they are regulated by the “RCRA Subtitle D (solid waste) and Subtitle C (hazardous waste) or under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).”

Landfill Basics

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

The government does allow landfills 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. In 2021, “environmentally sensitive” area requirements have broadened quite a bit. This list of requirements has limited 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.

Are Landfills Harmful?

Despite some landfills offering precautionary measures against the release of methane gas, some still get released into the atmosphere. Methane gas is one of the most destructive greenhouse gasses.

Alongside methane, a portion of landfills release other dangerous greenhouse gases such as “carbon dioxide and water vapor, and trace amounts of oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen, and non methane organic compounds.”

Another fear that comes with landfills is the destruction of wildlife habitats as nearly 1,800,000 acres of habitat have been lost due to landfills.

There is also research that identified that “flu, eye irritation and weakness of the body were frequently reported by participants living closer to the landfill than those living far from the landfill.”

There have been recent plans designed to reduce the gas emissions from landfills and protect the environment, but it’s too soon for any results.

What Happens to Garbage in Landfills?

Typically, the waste is compacted and covered with soil or other materials to minimize odor, discourage pests, and reduce the risk of environmental contamination. 

Over time, the organic and biodegradable components of the waste undergo decomposition through the activity of bacteria and other microorganisms.

Types of Landfills

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

MSWLFs dispose of household waste and other non-hazardous 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 comprise a large portion of solid waste and must be disposed of.  Subcategories of industrial waste landfills include:

Are There Hazardous Waste Landfills?

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

Standards for a hazardous waste landfill include:

  • Double liner
  • Double leachate collection and removal systems
  • Leak detection system
  • Run on, runoff, and wind dispersal controls
  • Construction quality assurance program

If you need a landfill 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 to ensure compliance and avoid potential fines.

Have Hazardous Waste? Call HWH Environmental for All of Your Disposal Needs.

HWH Environmental has been your trusted hazardous waste removal company for over 25 years. Our team works with all types of hazardous waste with service throughout the United States.

For assistance with hazardous waste disposal or management, please contact HWH Environmental at 1-866-483-3478 or fill out our full-service form online.

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