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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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  • Dale J. 4 months ago
    great content
  • Deborah W. 6 months ago
    Maybe more incineration is needed to relieve the loads of landfill. We are in a predicament.
  • Connie H. 1 year ago
    I always put my food scraps in my compost pile instead of putting it in the garbage can!
  • Suzanne L G. 1 year 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 might.....one can always hope! ;)
  • Becky B. 1 year 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.
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