What is a landfill and is it bad? - Totally Taylored

What is a landfill and is it bad?

What exactly is a landfill and is it bad? We've always been lead to believe that landfills are an end all be all of doom....but are they really? We chatted with Denise Plemmons, 

Waste Reduction Coordinator for ACC to inquire more about the Athen's Landfill which has just about 37 years left at our current rate of throwing away.


Let's start by looking at the difference between a landfill and a dump: 

According to High Point, NC, "Dumps allow leachate to soak into the ground and contaminate the groundwater. Landfill liners prevent leachate from passing into groundwater. Modern landfills have leachate collection systems and the leachate is transported to treatment plants where clean water is produced and pollutants are removed."

Now to our questions answered by Denise: 

  1. Are landfills inherently bad? There is a lot of stigma around landfills, but they are far from bad. Yes, we want to reduce what we are sending to the landfill to make sure it lasts a long time and materials are disposed of efficiently, but without landfills, where would our trash go? Landfills help keep our community and environment clean while also providing jobs for our local economy. There are a lot of permits and regulations that go in to a landfill to keep our community safe. Our landfill is a state-of-the-art, well-engineered lined Subtitle D landfill meaning we can only accept municipal solid waste, no construction or demo debris or hazardous waste. Keeping a landfill secure takes a lot of monitoring of groundwater, landfill gas, and safety protocols. Today’s landfills must meet stringent design, operation and closure requirements established under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).
  2. What would you say is the largest contribution to the Athens landfill specifically? Probably cardboard. A lot gets recycled but a lot is still going to the landfill. According to the Georgia Statewide Waste Characterization Study in 2005, 40.3% of what was landfilled was paper. I know that is dated but it was the last study they did and is probably still pretty accurate, roughly.
  3. What happens to a landfill? What happens to our trash once we fill the Athens landfill? Once our landfill reaches its capacity, it will be sealed with a cap on top that gets covered with soil and grass. The area will remain only grass to prevent any cracking of the liner. Without a local landfill, we will have to start transporting our waste to another county to be disposed of. Even without the active use of our space, the 400+ acres will still be monitored—sending leachate to the waste water treatment plant and capturing the methane released inside to be reused for energy. Some landfills have been used for golf courses, parks, solar farms. Unfortunately, you cannot build on top of a landfill due to risk of cracking the cap and releasing methane.
  4. Is it ever okay to dispose of old clothing/comforters/towels that are beyond repair for recycling? For towels and comforters, I always check with local animal shelters to see if they could use them first. Clothing and textile recycling programs are becoming more and more popular, but if you are unable to access these or repurpose your items, unfortunately they may have to be disposed of. They can be donated at CHaRM which goes to America’s Thrift Store and they get turned in to rags, so downcycled.
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