AskDefine | Define landfill

Dictionary Definition

landfill n : a low area that has been filled in

User Contributed Dictionary



land + fill


  1. to dispose of garbage by burying it at a landfill site


  1. a site at which refuse is buried under layers of earth
  2. the material so disposed of


Extensive Definition

For other uses see, water treatment and Land reclamation.
A landfill, also known as a dump or tip (and historically as a midden), is a site for the disposal of waste materials by burial and is the oldest form of waste treatment. Historically, landfills have been the most common methods of organized waste disposal and remain so in many places around the world.
Landfills may include internal waste disposal sites (where a producer of waste carries out their own waste disposal at the place of production) as well as sites used by many producers. Many landfills are also used for other waste management purposes, such as the temporary storage, consolidation and transfer, or processing of waste material (sorting, treatment, or recycling).
A landfill also may refer to ground that has been filled in with soil and rocks instead of waste materials, so that it can be used for a specific purpose, such as for building houses. Unless they are stabilized, these areas may experience severe shaking or liquefaction of the ground in a large earthquake.

Site construction requirements

The construction of a landfill requires a staged approach. Landfill designers are primarily concerned with the viability of a site. To be commercially and environmentally viable a landfill must be constructed in accord with specific requirements, which are related to:
  • Location
    • Easy access to transport by road
    • Transfer stations if rail network is preferred
    • Land value
    • Cost of meeting government requirements, such as the Environment Agency in England and Wales
    • Location of community served
    • Type of construction (more than one may be used at single site)
      • Pit - filling existing holes in the ground, typically left behind by mining
      • Canyon - filling in naturally occurring valleys or canyons
      • Mound - piling the waste up above the ground
  • Stability
    • Underlying geology
    • Nearby earthquake faults
    • Water table
    • Location of nearby rivers, streams, and flood plains
  • Capacity The available voidspace must be calculated by comparison of the landform with a proposed restoration profile.This calulation of capacity is based on,
    • Density of the wastes
    • Amount of intermediate and daily cover
    • Amount of settlement that the waste will undergo following tipping
    • Thickness of capping
    • Construction of lining and drainage layers.
  • Protection of soil and water through:
  • Costs
    • Feasibility studies
    • Site after care
    • Site investigations (costs involved may make small sites uneconomical).


Typically, in non hazardous waste landfills, in order to meet predefined specifications, techniques are applied by which the wastes are:
  1. Confined to as small an area as possible.
  2. Compacted to reduce their volume.
  3. Covered (usually daily) with layers of soil.
As human overcrowding of developed areas intensified during the 20th century, it has become important to develop land re-use strategies for completed landfills. Some of the most common usages are for parks, golf courses and other sports fields. Increasingly, however, office buildings and industrial uses are made on a completed landfill. In these latter uses, methane capture is customarily carried out to minimize explosive hazard within the building.
An example of a Class A office building constructed over a landfill is the Dakin Building at Sierra Point, Brisbane, California. The underlying fill was deposited from 1965 to 1985, mostly consisting of construction debris from San Francisco and some municipal wastes. Aerial photographs prior to 1965 show this area to be tidelands of the San Francisco Bay. A clay cap was constructed over the debris prior to building approval.
Another strategy for landfill reclamation is the incineration of landfill trash at high temperature via the plasma-arc gasification process, which is currently used at two facilities in Japan, and will be used at a planned facility in St. Lucie County, Florida.


A number of adverse impacts occur from landfill operations. These impacts can vary: fatal accidents (e.g., scavengers buried under waste piles); infrastructure damage (e.g., damage to access roads by heavy vehicles); pollution of the local environment (such as contamination of groundwater and/or aquifers by leakage and residual soil contamination during landfill usage, as well as after landfill closure); offgassing of methane generated by decaying organic wastes (methane is a greenhouse gas many times more potent than carbon dioxide, and can itself be a danger to inhabitants of an area;) harbouring of disease vectors such as rats and flies, particularly from improperly operated landfills, which are common in Third-world countries; injuries to wildlife; and simple nuisance problems (e.g., dust, odour, vermin, or noise pollution).
Environmental noise and dust are generated from vehicles accessing a landfill as well as from working face operations. These impacts are best to intercept at the planning stage where access routes and landfill geometrics can be used to mitigate such issues. Vector control is also important, but can be managed reasonably well with the daily cover protocols.
Most modern landfills in industrialized countries are operated with controls to attempt manage problems such as these. Analysis of common landfill operational problems are available in
Some local authorities have found it difficult to locate new landfills. Communities may charge a fee or levy in order to discourage waste and/or recover the costs of site operations. Some landfills are operated for profit as commercial businesses. Many landfills, however, are publicly operated and funded.

Impacts to people near landfills in the U.S.

Communities near landfills are increasingly facing health consequences from air and water contamination, particularly from landfills that are poorly constructed and operated. Environmental contamination from landfills is entering waterways and underground aquifer at alarming rates. Liner breaches are not uncommon. Liners can delay contamination but they do not prevent it. With large amounts of toxic solid waste entering landfills today, ground and air contamination pose a significant threat to public health for those living within three to five miles of a landfill, and will eventually degrade the environment far beyond those limits.
Poorly constructed and operated landfills persist with leachate breaks, uncovered trash, and unchecked banned hazardous compounds. Federal laws to protect the public in Sec. 4001, Subtitle D of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) can be unenforceable to citizens without adequate legal funding. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency generally relies on the states to enforce their own operating permits and federal laws. If state agencies are not aggressive, violations can worsen, multiplying negative environmental impacts exponentially. There are some notable recorded violations in the U.S., such as for a landfill in Hawaii that was fined $2.8 million in 2006 for operating violations, but this is not common.

Regional practice

United Kingdom

Landfilling practices in the UK have had to change in recent years to meet the challenges of the European Landfill Directive. The UK now imposes landfill tax upon biodegradable waste which is landfilled. In addition to this the Landfill Allowance Trading Scheme has been established for local authorities to trade landfill quotas.

United States

In the U.S., landfills are regulated by the state's environmental agency that establishes minimum guidelines; however, none of these standards may fall below those set by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); such as was the case with the Fresh Kills Landfill in Staten Island, which is claimed by many to not only be the world's largest landfill, but the world's largest manmade structure.
The Fresno Municipal Sanitary Landfill, opened in Fresno, California in 1937, is considered to have been the first modern, sanitary landfill in the United States, innovating the techniques of trenching, compacting, and the daily covering of waste with soil. It has been designated a National Historic Landmark, underlining the significance of waste disposal in urban society.
Before the advent of modern landfills in America, most Americans lived in sparsely populated rural farming communities and most burned their garbage. Due to environmental and safety concerns, burning garbage by civilians has been outlawed by most municipalities and can only be performed by landfill managers or people who have obtained permits from the municipality. More information on landfill history in the United States can be found at
The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act is a US federal law that is designed to protect the public from harm caused by waste disposal. The EPA runs a Landfill Methane Outreach Program (LMOP), a voluntary assistance program that helps to reduce methane emissions from landfills by encouraging the recovery and use of landfill gas as an energy resource.
U.S. landfills consist of 40% to 50% paper waste, 20% to 30% construction debris, and 1.2% disposable diapers.


The obvious alternative to landfills are waste reduction and recycling strategies. Secondary to not creating waste, there are various alternatives to landfills. In the late 20th century, alternative methods to waste disposal to landfill and incineration have begun to gain acceptance. Anaerobic digestion, composting, mechanical biological treatment, pyrolysis and plasma arc gasification have all began to establish themselves in the market.
In recent years, some countries, such as Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, have banned the disposal of untreated waste in landfills. In these countries, only the ashes from incineration or the stabilised output of mechanical biological treatment plants may still be deposited.


External links

landfill in Aymara: T'una uchaña
landfill in Bengali: আবর্জনাভূমি
landfill in Bosnian: Deponija
landfill in Catalan: Abocador
landfill in Czech: Skládka
landfill in Danish: Losseplads
landfill in German: Deponie
landfill in Spanish: Vertedero (basura)
landfill in Esperanto: Rubodeponejo
landfill in Persian: محل دفن مواد زاید جامد
landfill in French: Décharge (déchet)
landfill in Croatian: Smetlište
landfill in Italian: Discarica di rifiuti
landfill in Hebrew: מטמנה
landfill in Latvian: Izgāztuve
landfill in Lithuanian: Sąvartynas
landfill in Dutch: Vuilnishoop
landfill in Japanese: 最終処分場
landfill in Norwegian: Søppelfylling
landfill in Occitan (post 1500): Descarga
landfill in Polish: Składowisko odpadów
landfill in Portuguese: Aterro sanitário
landfill in Russian: Свалка
landfill in Simple English: Landfill
landfill in Slovenian: Smetišče
landfill in Serbian: Депонија
landfill in Serbo-Croatian: Deponija
landfill in Finnish: Kaatopaikka
landfill in Swedish: Soptipp
landfill in Ukrainian: Звалище
landfill in Chinese: 垃圾堆填區
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