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For the practice of filling a body of water to create new land, see Land reclamation. For other uses, see Landfill (disambiguation).
"The dump" redirects here. For other uses, see The Dump.
A landfill in Poland

A landfill site (also known as a tip, dump, rubbish dump or dumping ground and historically as a midden[1]) is a site for the disposal of waste materials by burial and is the oldest form of waste treatment. Historically, landfills have been the most common method of organized waste disposal and remain so in many places around the world.

Some landfills are also used for waste management purposes, such as the temporary storage, consolidation and transfer, or processing of waste material (sorting, treatment, or recycling).

A landfill also may refer to ground that has been filled in with rocks instead of waste materials, so that it can be used for a specific purpose, such as for building houses. Unless they are stabilized, these areas may experience severe shaking or liquefaction of the ground during a large earthquake.


A section of a landfill located in Barclay, Ontario. This landfill is one of several used by Dryden, Ontario.

Typically, in non-hazardous waste landfills, in order to meet predefined specifications, techniques are applied by which the wastes are:

  1. Confined to as small an area as possible.
  2. Compacted to reduce their volume.
  3. Covered (usually daily) with layers of soil.

During landfill operations the waste collection vehicles are weighed at a scale or weighbridge on arrival and their load is inspected for wastes that do not accord with the landfill’s waste acceptance criteria. Afterward, the waste collection vehicles use the existing road network on their way to the tipping face or working front where they unload their contents. After loads are deposited, compactors or bulldozers are used to spread and compact the waste on the working face. Before leaving the landfill boundaries, the waste collection vehicles pass through a wheel cleaning facility. If necessary, they return to the weighbridge in order to be weighed without their load. Through the weighing process, the daily incoming waste tonnage can be calculated and listed in databases for record keeping. In addition to trucks, some landfills may be equipped to handle railroad containers. The use of 'rail-haul' permits landfills to be located at more remote sites, without the problems associated with many truck trips.

Typically, in the working face, the compacted waste is covered with soil or alternative materials daily. Alternative waste-cover materials are chipped wood or other "green waste",[2] several sprayed-on foam products, chemically 'fixed' bio-solids and temporary blankets. Blankets can be lifted into place at night then removed the following day prior to waste placement. The space that is occupied daily by the compacted waste and the cover material is called a daily cell. Waste compaction is critical to extending the life of the landfill. Factors such as waste compressibility, waste layer thickness and the number of passes of the compactor over the waste affect the waste densities.

Advantages to using landfills[edit]

Landfills are often the most cost-efficient way to dispose of waste, especially in countries like the United States with large open spaces. While resource recovery and incineration both require extensive investments in infrastructure, and material recovery also requires extensive manpower to maintain, landfills have fewer fixed—or ongoing—costs, allowing them to compete favorably. In addition, landfill gas can be upgraded to natural gas—landfill gas utilization—which is a potential revenue stream.[3]

Social and environmental impact[edit]

Landfill operation in Hawaii. Note that the area being filled is a single, well-defined "cell" and that a protective landfill liner is in place (exposed on the left) to prevent contamination by leachates migrating downward through the underlying geological formation.

Poorly managed landfills have the potential of causing a number of issues. Infrastructure disruption, such as damage to access roads by heavy vehicles, may occur. Pollution of the local environment, such as contamination of groundwater or aquifers or soil contamination may occur, as well. Pollution of local roads and water courses from wheels on vehicles when they leave the landfill can be significant and can be mitigated by wheel washing systems.

Methane is naturally generated by decaying organic wastes in a landfill. It is a potent greenhouse gas, and can itself be a danger because it is flammable and potentially explosive. In properly managed landfills, gas is collected and utilized. This could range from simple flaring to landfill gas utilization.

Poorly run landfills may become nuisances because of vectors such as rats and flies which can cause infectious diseases. The occurrence of such vectors can be mitigated through the use of daily cover.

Other potential issues include wildlife disruption, dust, odor, noise pollution, and reduced local property values.

Landfill gas[edit]

Main article: Landfill gas

Gases are produced in landfills due to the anaerobic digestion by microbes. In a properly managed landfill this gas is collected and used. Its uses range from simple flaring to the landfill gas utilization and generation of electricity. Landfill gas monitoring alerts workers to the presence of a build-up of gases to a harmful level. In some countries, landfill gas recovery is extensive; in the United States, for example, more than 850 landfills have active landfill gas recovery systems.[4]

Regional practice[edit]

A landfill in Perth, Western Australia
South East New Territories Landfill, Hong Kong


Landfills in Canada are regulated by provincial environmental agencies and environmental protection acts (EPA).[5] Older facilities tend to fall under current standards and are monitored for leaching.[6] Some former locations have been converted to parkland.

European Union[edit]

In the European Union, individual states are obliged to enact legislation to comply with the requirements and obligations of the European Landfill Directive. In the UK this is the Waste Implementation Programme.

United Kingdom[edit]

Landfilling practices in the UK have had to change in recent years to meet the challenges of the European Landfill Directive. The UK now imposes landfill tax upon biodegradable waste which is put into landfills. In addition to this the Landfill Allowance Trading Scheme has been established for local authorities to trade landfill quotas in England. A different system operates in Wales where authorities are not able to 'trade' between themselves, but have allowances known as the Landfill Allowance Scheme.

United States[edit]

U.S. landfills are regulated by each state's environmental agency, which establishes minimum guidelines; however, none of these standards may fall below those set by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Permitting a landfill generally takes between 5 to 7 years, costs millions of dollars and requires rigorous siting, engineering and environmental studies and demonstrations to ensure local environmental and safety concerns are satisfied.[7]

Microbial topics[edit]

The status of a landfill's microbial community may determine its digestive efficiency.[8]

Bacteria that digest plastic have been found in landfills.[9]

Reclaiming materials[edit]

Main article: Landfill mining

Landfills can be regarded as a viable and abundant source of materials and energy. In the developing world, waste pickers often scavenge for still-usable materials. In a commercial context, landfill sites have also been discovered by companies, and many have begun harvesting materials and energy .[10] Well known examples are gas recovery facilities.[11] Other commercial facilities include waste incinerators which have built-in material recovery. This material recovery is possible through the use of filters (electro filter, active carbon and potassium filter, quench, HCL-washer, SO2-washer, bottom ash-grating, etc.).


In addition to waste reduction and recycling strategies, there are various alternatives to landfills, including Waste-to-energy incineration, anaerobic digestion, composting, mechanical biological treatment, pyrolysis and plasma arc gasification, which have all begun to establish themselves in the market. Depending on local economics and incentives, these can be made more financially attractive than landfills.


Countries including Germany, Austria, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Switzerland, have banned the disposal of untreated waste in landfills. In these countries, only the ashes from incineration or the stabilized output of mechanical biological treatment plants may still be deposited.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Midden". Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 18 May 2014. 
  2. ^ "Alternative Daily Cover (ADC)". Retrieved September 14, 2012. 
  3. ^ "LFG Energy Projects". United States Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved February 21, 2015. 
  4. ^ Powell, Jon T.; Townsend, Timothy G.; Zimmerman, Julie B. (2015-09-21). "Estimates of solid waste disposal rates and reduction targets for landfill gas emissions". Nature Climate Change. advance online publication. doi:10.1038/nclimate2804. ISSN 1758-6798. 
  5. ^ Landfill Inventory Management Ontario - How Ontario regulates Landfills - Ministry of the Environment
  6. ^ Aging Landfills: Ontario’s Forgotten Polluters - Eco Issues
  7. ^ "Modern landfills". Retrieved February 21, 2015. 
  8. ^ Gomez, A.M.; =Yannarell, A.C.; Sims, G.K.; Cadavid-Resterpoa, G.; Herrera, C.X.M. (2011). "Characterization of bacterial diversity at different depths in the Moravia Hill Landfill site at Medellín, Colombia". Soil Biology and Biochemistry 43 (6): 1275–1284. doi:10.1016/j.soilbio.2011.02.018. 
  9. ^ Gwyneth Dickey Zaikab (March 2011). "Marine microbes digest plastic". 
  10. ^ Multiple Purpose industries using landfills for energy
  11. ^ Commercial exploitation of gas from landfills

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]