What is a landfill site’s environmental impact?

What is a landfill site?

A landfill site is essentially a rubbish dump where waste is buried underground. It’s one of the oldest and the most common methods of waste disposal and one that is now recognised as highly damaging to the wider environment and ecosystems alike. 

What is landfill gas and what is the environmental impact of landfill?

Dangerous greenhouse gases

The main issue with landfills is methane gas. As the organic matter in landfills degrades, methane gas is released. Methane gas isn’t the only gas produced by landfills, as they also let off a heady mix of carbon dioxide and water vapour, in addition to hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen. Combined, these gases can cause smog and climate change. This, coupled with the methane absorbing the sun’s heat – results in landfills releasing strong greenhouse gases, to the significant detriment of our climate.

Biodegradable municipal waste (BMW)

BMW is the fraction of municipal waste that will decompose within a landfill to produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Amongst other materials it will include food waste, green waste, cardboard and paper. For reference, UK BMW sent to landfill in 2020 was 6.1 million tonnes.

Here is the split of BMW by country of the UK, from the most recent available government generate municipal waste data (2010-2020)

Source: Waste Data Interrogator, Defra Statistics

Destruction of habitats

The average size of a landfill site is around 500-600 acres. This means a huge amount of habitat is often uprooted and destroyed to make way for these massive waste dumps. 

Leachate and its impact on animal life and water quality

Put simply, leachate is the liquid that drains or ‘leaches’ from a landfill. It varies in composition in relation to the landfill’s age and the type of waste that it holds. 

Leachate contains ammonia, which then gets into our ecosystems and generates nitrate. This nitrate can result in eutrophication (lack of oxygen) meaning animals can’t survive as a consequence in those areas. Leachate also has mercury within its composition – a toxin dangerous in large amounts to local ecosystems.  

How can landfill be avoided?

Sweeptech operates a 100% landfill avoidance process, with detailed ESG reporting (inc. circular economy), making use of all waste material, and reducing cost and carbon emissions.

However, the most recent Government data on waste treatment (see point 9.2 of the ENV23 report), from 2018, shows there’s still a huge amount of work to be done to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill (over 50 million tonnes in 2018, only a 2.8% reduction on 2016’s figures), as shown in the table below:

Source: ENV23 Report – UK statistics on waste

There are plenty of ways that even individuals can help to reduce landfill, including:

Reducing biodegradable municipal waste through composting

As mentioned above, the UK put 6.1 million tonnes of BMW into landfills in 2021. Landfills don’t have the oxygen required for compostable waste to biodegrade, so items that are recyclable or biodegradable that are inadvertently thrown in waste bins will unnecessarily become like all other non-compostable waste. 

Making sure to recycle biodegradable waste, including food stuffs, for example by using the BMW for compost. 

What can both individuals and businesses alike do to improve their waste management practices?

Recycling every item that is recyclable rather than just throwing it in the bin with normal waste, is a great way to make a difference to our environment. 

If during the process of recycling you realise you’re using a lot of single use plastic, look for alternatives or foods without packaging. Paper straws and plates for example are great alternatives to their plastic counterparts, as is avoiding buying plastic water bottles and using a reusable one instead. 

For commercial waste management, get in touch with us today to discover how Sweeptech works with clients to guarantee 100% landfill avoidance and strives to deliver a circular economy of, to make use of all waste material again and cut down on non-reusable waste. 

Related Articles

Sweeptech Acquires Go Plant

Sweeptech is delighted to announced its acquisition of Go Plant, a renowned player in the waste management industry. This strategic move solidifies our position as …

Read More
Waste clear up and recycling at Goodwood Festival Of Speed

Festival and Event Waste Management and Cleanup

As the season of festivals approaches, communities gear up for days filled with the excitement of seeing their favourite bands and sporting heroes, along with …

Read More

Sweeptech Supports England’s Baton Twirling Star

Sponsored by Sweeptech, follow Millie’s journey to the European stage

Read More

Sweeptech Accreditations

Sign Up To Our Newsletter