When you think of a landfill, usually a happy thought doesn’t come to mind. Most people avoid the topic of garbage. It’s unsightly, it smells, it’s overall it’s really gross. We put it into our trash cans and it’s sent away. But, there is a lot more to it than that. Our waste doesn’t just magically disappear; it has to be sent somewhere. That’s where the landfill comes in. Landfills are the storing system for all of our waste and they have come a long way. Before the 1980s landfills were called dumps and that’s what they did. People would just dump their garbage into a giant pit. There were a few problems with that. First off, it smelled horrible, making it virtually impossible to be near it. Secondly, it was unsafe. Birds and other animals would choke on the waste or get trapped under the pile of trash. Finally, it was unhealthy. The garbage water called leachate would leak into the ground water supply and make people sick. Things had to change and thus was born the modern landfill.
Landfills are made up of different layers and drainage to keep the waste safe and sanitary as it decomposes. The land has to be chosen then the hole be dug. From there a layer of clay is added along with a plastic liner and pipes are installed to collect the leachate. From there the garbage is collected and compacted every night. But landfills are so much more than that. Most landfills have their own recycling and compost programs. For example, the landfill in Salt Lake City, Utah breaks down the recycling even further. First, at every household waste drop-off point there is a recycling option available. The people themselves just have to sort it. In addition, there is an electronic recycling option for all old electronics that have either toxic waste or precious metals in them. Then there is a paint collection where people can reuse paint that was thrown away. Further along there is a compost facility in which they compost organic waste and sell it. They also have a soil treatment facility and finally they made a pond where the dump used to be, that has become—in my opinion—one of the best bird watching places in Utah. They continually test the soil to make sure it is safe for the environment and the ecosystems surrounding the landfill.
Although this just seems to be a laundry list of amenities offered at a landfill, it shows that there is more to offer at the landfill than just filling pits with garbage. It is a resource that should be remembered and used in an effort to make recycling more prominent. Landfills may be a better fix that just dumping trash but at a certain point there will not be any more land to dump the garbage into. That is why the emphasis on recycling is so prominent. When touring the landfill and looking in the piles of garbage one could not help but notice all of the things that could have been reused or recycled that did not belong in that pile. There is a giant fence surrounding the landfill and staff said that on a windy day that entire fence would be covered with plastic bags because they are blown up by the wind.
This is also only talking about the trash that ends up in the landfill. There is so much trash that doesn’t up in garbage heaven and instead ends up on the streets, washed up on beaches, and circling in the ocean. In fact, there is a patch of garbage the size of Texas floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and due to ocean currents it is not able to circulate. This is terrible for the ecosystem of the ocean and the species that call it home. But this is not the fault of the oceans. All of that waste with the plastic bags could be eliminated by taking reusable bags to the grocery store, or even the shopping mall. Similarly the stench of organic waste breaking down could have been avoided by people not wasting the food they buy or donating and composting any extras they have. These steps are minor but if everyone took the time to examine the waste they are producing and attempted to reduce it everyone on the planet would benefit and landfills could be converted entirely to recycling. Even if people do not care about the waste issue from an environmental standpoint they should care from an economic and aesthetic standpoint. There is nothing to lose from properly addressing and eliminating our waste as a planet.