Solid Waste Landfilling

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Solid waste landfilling

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) defines solid waste as garbage , refuse, sludge from sewage treatment plants, ash from incinerators, mining waste, construction and demolition materials. It also includes some small quantities of hazardous waste . There are several acceptable methods for disposing of these wastes. These include incineration , composting , recycling , industrial surface impoundments, and landfills. In terms of personal inconvenience, disposing of waste in landfills is easier than the other methods. Waste can have any shape or condition prior to being placed into a landfill . This is different from composting and incineration. Waste to be composted must be biodegradable and have maximal surface area to hasten the process of composting. Waste to be incinerated must be combustible and be reduced into small pieces to maximize surface area and promote burning. Waste to be disposed of in a landfill is usually broken down with heavy machinery, then compacted and placed into specially prepared sites. Formerly, waste was dumped into unused sand or gravel pits. In 2002, most waste is placed into sanitary landfills. These are specially prepared sites into which drains and special linings have been installed prior to the placement of waste. In sanitary landfills, waste is compacted each day and covered with a layer of dirt to decrease odor and discourage flies and other organisms such as rats, mice and birds that can transmit disease.

In 1960, each American generated 2.7 lb (1.2 kg) of solid waste. This grew to 4.3 lb (1.9 kg) per person by 1990. Americans continue to generate more solid waste each day but the rate of growth has decreased. In 2000, each person generated 4.5 lb (2.0 kg) each day. The population also continues to increase. The net effect is to create increased amounts of municipal waste. The supply of available landfill space is rapidly decreasing. The attitude of not in my backyard (NIMBY) further slows the development and construction of new landfills. With fewer landfills, the cost of sanitary waste disposal has dramatically increased. The composition of waste dumped into landfills is also important in terms of capacity and useful life. For instance, plastics account for 8% of municipal solid waste by weight, but more than 21% by volume. In an attempt to conserve land space and reduce other, long term problems, some municipalities have banned the deposition of certain materials such as car batteries, used tires, motor oil, yard waste , and appliances.

In 1980, 81% of solid waste was buried in landfills; in 1990 the amount had decreased to 67%. In 2000, the amount of solid waste put into landfills again increased to approximately 75%. This decrease through 1990 was the result of a concentrated effort by federal and local organizations to address problems associated with landfills. Experts differ as to the reasons for the increase. Many attribute it to decreased participation in recycling programs. In addition, contamination of surface and ground waters near landfills has been reported for the past two decades. Because of these and other health-related problems associated with landfill use, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continues to recommend source reduction, recycling, and incineration as the preferred waste management solutions. Placing solid waste in landfills is the least desirable method for disposing of solid waste. However, it is an acceptable alternative that is far superior to unrestricted dumping.

[L. Fleming Fallon Jr., M.D., Dr.P.H. ]



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