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Because You Asked

Because You Asked: Why Are Landfills Bad?

By Recyclebank |

Landfills are an important part of the waste management system, but we should still avoid trashing something when it could be recycled or composted.

Dear Recyclebank,

I don’t understand what’s so bad about sending things to the landfill. Why are landfills bad?

-Tina K., FL

Dear Tina,

Landfills get a bad rap — but with modern landfills, it’s not so much the landfill itself that’s bad, as it is the amount of stuff in landfills that’s bad.

As recently as the 1980s, trash was sent to “open dumps” that leaked dangerous liquids into nearby groundwater, attracted pests, were fire hazards, and just plain smelled bad. Local communities often faced health and environmental problems as landfills polluted water supplies and affected local habitats.

Today’s landfills must follow strict government regulations that address the issues of yesterday’s landfills. And while regulations make landfills safer for the environment and nearby communities, modern engineering has also helped landfills become more environmentally-beneficial parts of the national waste management system: Some landfills can even capture byproducts of the waste’s decomposition and convert them into a valuable alternative energy source.

While landfills themselves have improved, all the stuff in landfills still represent a loss to the environment and the economy. For example, as much as 50% of all landfill space is taken up by paper, much of which could have been recycled. Had all that paper been recycled, more energy and resources (like trees and water) could have been saved — we could have used that paper, rather than trees, to make new paper. Plus, as all that stuff in landfills decomposes, it creates methane, a very powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. In fact, landfills are the third-largest source of methane emissions in the U.S.

To reduce what you send to a landfill:

  • Only buy what you need.
  • Look for recyclable products when shopping.
  • Try to reuse and donate before tossing something away.
  • Recycle and compost everything you can.

SOURCES: EPA, EPA, Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality

How do you reduce the amount of waste you send to the landfill? Share your best tips in the comments below!

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  • Deborah W. 2 months ago
    Maybe more incineration is needed to relieve the loads of landfill. We are in a predicament.
  • Connie H. 11 months ago
    I always put my food scraps in my compost pile instead of putting it in the garbage can!
  • Suzanne L G. 11 months ago
    Silly, I know but I even recycle the paper and plastic bag from feminine products. I don't buy plastic bags but reuse the cereal liner in cereal to put things in I might ordinarily use a plastic bag for. I never use plastic bags in small trash cans. They are after all washable and don't really require a liner (I also live alone). Rarely do I not recycle all junk mail. Keep basket near my desk or area where I do bookeeping to recycle envelopes and papers I don't need to shred. All my plastic bags I can take to my local grocery store too a recycle bin. Reusable bags are always IN MY CAR. If they arent they won't get used. Still can't convince either of my daughters to do this but maybe a daughter-in -law can always hope! ;)
  • Becky B. 11 months ago
    I have fabric grocery bags that I use instead of bringing home more plastic. I do forget to take them with me on occasion and end up with several plastic bags after a grocery run. But instead of trashing them as soon as I get home, I reuse them to line small trash cans in my house. At least that way I don't buy more plastic for the trash cans.
  • Tami G. 11 months ago
    Don't use all those bags on produce. You need to wash it anyway before using. Skip the bag and go straight to the cart.
    • Eilene B. 11 months ago
      Grocery carts are not all. Please don't place fresh produce straight into the cart.
    • Tami G. 11 months ago
      Of course they are not clean, neither are your pesticide covered, waxed produce that either came from the ground or was laying on the ground. Wash it either way. And avoid the baggies that litter our landfills.
    • Laura L. 11 months ago
      Agreed, the produce is much dirtier than the cart although the cart is also dirty. I used my Recyclebank points to get a reusable produce bag from One Twine! It's unbleached organic cotton, has a drawstring, fits big lettuces and is small enough stitching to also use to get trail mix or cereal from the bulk bins. Got a whole set of 10 from Amazon to go with it n when I wash everything and put it away at home I toss the bags in the washer with towels, hang dry-very important because they'll shrink, and put them back in the car with my reusable canvas bags. Problem solved and they're great for those tiny items like ginger or little mushrooms.
    • Laura L. 11 months ago
      Here's the link to OneTwine's food bags available, if you don't like the idea of putting your canvas bags in the washer, you can get the thick plastic or wax bags and soak them in the sink with vinegar (kills bacteria, viruses, fungus better than bleach) or put in the dishwasher. If you don't have a lot of Recyclebank points you can look on Amazon for the same or similar products. It's worth it for the environment and encourages you to get healthy food at the store. I put a piece of masking tape on some of the bags and write what it's for and put a "fill to" line so I know it fits in my glass containers at home and I'll have enough for the next couple weeksf, feels good to be so organized :). Link:
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