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Are landfills bad for the environment?

Discussion in 'Energy, Environment, and Policy' started by MileHighMotoring, Jun 28, 2015.

  1. MileHighMotoring

    May 27, 2015
    Parker, CO
    I'm an ecologically-minded person, and very concerned about climate change as well as chemicals in our modern society harming us. (Short list of steps I've taken include stopped using all Teflon pans 5+ years ago, got rid of all BPA and polycarbonate plastics, etc) We recycle a LOT. Like equal to our trash. It's easy to do and thankfully we have single-stream so it all goes in one bin. But I've always wondered if it's really that big of a deal. (Other than things like aluminum that use so much energy refining from the bauxite) I've read stats that say that the landfill space taken up per household is way smaller than you'd imagine, and that we have oodles of open space enough to hide centuries of trash under the dirt.

    So what's the reality of a landfill? Is it so bad?
  2. Cosmacelf

    Cosmacelf Well-Known Member

    Mar 6, 2013
    San Diego
    It takes decades for a typical landfill for a big city to fill up. After they are full, they are left fallow for several decades more to recapture methane gases, and then they are eventually "recycled" into a golf course or a public park. So, I've never seen the problem people seem to have with landfills.

    As far as recycling goes, only metals can be economically recycled. I do recycle glass and plastic bottles as well since the state pays CRV fees for those (I just have my landscaper take my recycling to a CRV center so that he can make pocket money from the CA government). I don't bother recycling paper since it costs more to recycle than to make it new, and, as I said, landfills aren't a problem.
  3. neroden

    neroden Happy Model S Owner

    Apr 25, 2011
    Ithaca, NY, USA
    Short answer: "Yes, landfills are bad for the environment, but they're not THAT bad."

    The worst problem with landfills is when they get toxics disposed in them, which makes the land hard to reuse for anything. Toxics recycling is VERY important, in order to keep them out of landfills.

    It's worth recycling metals because it's immediately profitable; cheaper than mining.
    It's worth recycling paper because paper is high-volume, and it's better than knocking down forests; if the loggers were charged for externalities, it would be (very slightly) profitable. But they're not.
    It's worth recycling plastics because it's better than the carbon emissions from digging up fresh oil from the ground; again, if the drillers were charged for externalities, it would be (very slightly) profitable. But they're not.

    It's not worth recycling ceramics, nor is it generally even possible.

    Economically, I looked at the situation in my locality a while back. They have to pay to dispose of all recyclables except metal. But they pay MORE to put stuff in the landfill, so it's still cheaper to recycle. We don't have a lot of cheap landfill space left in the Northeast

    The economics for a municipality is largely about volume and weight: they want to get the *bulk* out of the landfill stream to cut their landfilling costs. So really, if recycling is cutting the landfill loads by 50% or 80%, they're happy, they've saved money.

    If you're getting 3 newspapers a day (don't laugh, I know people who do), or you're an office which produces reams of throwaway paper daily, recycling the paper is well worthwhile. If you're just tossing the occasional sheet of paper, it's not worth it at all.

    Paper recycling has an additional problem in that there's a grading/quality issue. Pure (or mostly) office paper is good material for recycling. Pure newsprint is bad. Stuff mixed in with containers in a dirty fashion is really bad, so the "single stream" recycling is generally terrible. Offices really ought to have separate office-paper-only recycling.

    There's actually a situation like this with plastics as well. What the municipalities would really like would be if high-volume, high-grade materials were routinely recycled, with anything "questionable" (paper with grease stains, plastics with food residue or metal bits) thrown in the trash. Unfortunately, it's proven to be very difficult to get the average American to sort anything.

    Which is also the biggest problem with landfills -- due to inability to get Americans to sort anything, there is a continuous stream of toxics going into the landfill (even though there isn't supposed to be).
  4. Robert.Boston

    Robert.Boston Model S VIN P01536

    Oct 7, 2011
    Portland, Maine, USA
    Cities should make it easier for people to dispose of toxics safely; as it stands now, even well-meaning people might stare at that dead AA battery and toss it in the trash. In most places, there's no simple option. The large company I used to work for had a toxics recycling (batteries, CFLs, etc.), and our Whole Foods takes CFLs, but what's available to the general populace for batteries etc.?
  5. MitchMitch

    MitchMitch Lurker In Chief

    Sep 4, 2012
    Home Depot takes batteries, as well as Batteries Plus if you have those in your area. Our city has a fairly comprehensive recycling operation located on the grounds of a former water treatment facility. Also, our forward thinking County Landfill operates a compost facility that accepts waste 6 days a week and sells soil amendment to cover costs. At the landfill there is also a recycle center for cardboard, paper of all types, and co-mingled aluminum, glass and plastics. In addition they operate a hazardous materials unit that accepts everything from batteries, to paint, to CFLs from county residents (including the city) at no charge. They charge a fee for appliances. I sell aluminum to Waste Management for lunch $$ a couple times a year. It doesn't take much to keep it organized, and no need to pay a trash service!

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