Landfills Are Not The Solution

Today I am shining light on the eye-opening documentary called Trashed. I will briefly discuss landfills and how they are not a solution to the “waste problem”.

A Look Inside Landfills

As our linear economy continues to feed us and overconsumption thrives with our false dependence and addiction to single-use and disposables, we are running into a major problem. That problem being where to put the excessive amount of waste we are generating. Currently, we dump the waste in landfills, but is this really a good solution?

To an extent, consumers are at least aware of the amount of waste pollution out there. However, I feel that the mindset that we are taught to have is that waste is to be looked at as a “trash problem”, and consumers are “litterbugs” who are largely responsible for the amount of waste pollution. This mindset is a sneaky way for companies and manufacturers to point the blame. The reality is that we do not have a “trash problem” like they say, we have a design problem.


The Idea

Burying waste is not a horrible idea nor is burying waste something that has never been done before throughout history. I mean, dogs bury their waste, right? The idea of a landfill is essentially a larger scale of what humans and animals have done before with waste. The problem is, however, that waste is no longer organic and biodegradable. Therefore, should not be buried.

Nature works by building things up and breaking things down. A tree grows leaves, the leaves fall off, the leaves decompose, and the soil and organisms are nourished from the fallen leaves which stimulates new life. Then the cycle happens all over again: building up and breaking down. Nature’s circular, zero waste model.

When we create waste that is toxic and not biodegradable, we cannot treat it the same as organic waste. We will immediately destroy the land, right? So, wait… Since we know how toxic our waste is, why are we not fixing that problem right then and there? Why do we continue to create toxic waste knowing it will harm the environment? Instead of creating new designs and coming up with innovative and sustainable ideas, we instead spend million of dollars a year trying to clean up waste, handle waste, maintain landfills, reap the harsh impacts of environmental pollution, etc. It just all seems pretty self destructive to me.

150 years ago, the waste stream consisted of natural products like wood, paper, animal byproducts, and natural fabrics like wool. Products that can decompose. Now, the waste stream consists of heavy metals, plastics, and toxic and radioactive materials. This kind of waste cannot just be buried in the ground because it will not decompose and it will contaminate the land and waters. This is where the design of landfills comes in.

Landfill Design

First, let me clarify that I am talking about landfills, not dumps. The difference is that dumps are literally just unregulated holes in the ground where garbage is dumped. Landfills are regulated structures designed with layers of “protectants” so the environment will “not be harmed”.

Landfills have multiple layers, but for the sake of keeping this blog post relatively short, I am focusing on the base layer, or the foundation, which should be the strongest point of any structure. Most landfills have a base layer made of clay or heavy plastic. This liner acts as a barrier which is meant to help stop toxic chemicals from leaching into the ground. They are finding that clay and plastic layers are flawed.

Ultimately, they will all fail. Clay cracks and certain chemicals break clay down. Plastic appears strong, but the polyethylene plastic they use actually weakens when exposed to common household chemicals like vinegars and alcohol. Eventually, the plastic liner becomes permeable, allowing liquid to pass through it . If these barriers fail, toxic chemicals will enter the soil thus defeating the purpose of a landfill. This means that there will be severe contamination in the surrounding areas.

Capacity Reached

Dwindling landfill space is a major concern. Landfills cover large portions of land and really should not be in too close of proximity to communities. Beijing, for example, has reached landfill capacity with over 400 landfills. Over the past decade, fourteen dumps in New York state have reached capacity. Space for waste is running out in many areas which means we now have to think of a “solution” to the landfill “solution”. A truly good solution does not need a solution.

Where can we put all this waste? Instead of cutting the problem off at the source, which would be the design of the product itself, we are spending millions and millions of dollars trying to figure out how to deal with waste and recycling. The recycling industry alone costs us millions of dollars each year and yet it is not even helping at this point. (Click here to learn more about recycling)

What Should We Try Doing?

Instead of allowing the problem to continue to grow deeper roots, why not cut the problem off at the source? Nip it in the bud. Again, we do not have a “trash problem” we have a design problem. The source of our “trash problem” is in the design.

I think shifting to a Zero Wast economy, consuming less, designing products more sustainably and efficiently, and using way less toxic chemicals will significantly help the environment and put pollution to a major halt.

Living a life with less trash means sending little to no trash to a landfill. Zero Waste and the Zero Waste lifestyle is a vote against landfill use. Check out My Alternatives tab for ideas on how you can avoid plastics and sending less to landfill!

Future Landfill Recyclables
Only around 10% of what we recycle actually gets recycled. The rest is dumped in a landfill, dump, or ocean.

Thank you!

Please feel free to contact me with any Zero Waste related questions/comments/tips/experiences, etc! Do not forget to share this post on your social media page! Let’s be friends on Facebook,  Instagram , Twitter , and YouTube too!

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  1. This is a great article. I just recently saw the documentary last week too. It’s horrible. I don’t think many people think about their trash at all. “Out of sight, out of mind.”

    I also just visited a waste-to-energy facility near my hometown. That too is not the solution.You can read about it here:

    I was also surprised that something like that existed so close to me. I’m one year into this eye opening zero waste journey and am continuing to learn so much.

    1. Thank you so much! I agree with the “out of sight out of mind” mentality. I definitely was there about a year ago! I’m also a year into my Zero Waste journey too 🙂 Thank you for sharing that link! I am checking it out now!!

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