Something that some people have said is that we are running out of space for landfills.
In this guide, we provide an overview of whether that is really the case, and whether landfills are actually filling up/overflowing.
Summary – Are Landfills Filling Up/Overflowing, & How Much Land Do We Have Left For Landfills?
It depends on the country (and States within a country) you are talking about as some countries have more available land than others, and different countries have different requirements for the standards their landfills have to meet.
But, overall, in a developed country like the US or Australia, whilst space in existing landfills may be beginning to run out – there is still enough space to create new landfills far into the future, and there’s also solutions to free up space in existing landfills (such as compacting existing waste).
The overall best approach to landfills is still to reduce or prevent rubbish from getting in it in the first place. Things like decreasing plastic packaging waste and decreasing food waste can really help.
Are Landfills Full/Overflowing?
- … the US is on pace to run out of room in [existing] landfills within 18 years
- … industry experts estimate that almost half the states throughout the U.S. will have space for a couple more decades, some will run out in as little as 5 years.
However, this is just for existing landfills in the way they are currently run. It does not take into consideration new landfills being set up and new land being available, or new incineration technology or changes in the way we produce or process waste.
How Much Land Do We Have Left For Landfills?
- The claim that recycling is essential to avoid running out of landfill space is [not true], since all the stuff Americans throw away for the next 1,000 years would fit into “one-tenth of 1% of land available for grazing”
So, it is clear that at least in America, there seems to be an ample supply of new land for new landfills, as long as grazing land is available in reality, and feasible in terms of being able to set up new landfill sites.
Solutions To Deal With A Lack Of Landfill Space
What people who claim we are running out of landfill space don’t mention is that current landfill sites can be managed to increase future waste capacity. There’s several ways and solutions to do this:
- Compact existing waste with compactors to free up space
- Burn/incinerate existing waste for energy, which also frees up space
We can also reduce the amount of waste we generate, be better at disposing of waste at a household level to ensure less recyclable waste ends up in landfill, and also start banning or adding levies/purchase penalties to certain types of waste such as plastic bags and single use plastics.
Obviously reducing waste altogether is the best solution, but short of that, more recycling and composting, followed by making better use of existing landfill sites are all options to deal with the ‘we are running out of landfill space’ issue.
- Waste processors could begin burning more waste for energy (but there are air pollution concerns with this)
- Making new landfills is a possible solution (but this can take time and money, and new landfills means more methane from decomposing organic waste)
- The best solution is to decrease waste in the first place
- Places like Sweden are actively importing waste to incinerate for energy.
- They have developed technology which isn’t as harmful on the environment during incineration
- piggybacking landfill on top of existing landfill waste, and compacting existing landfill waste is an option to free up landfill space
- there’s machinery that will compact the waste to about 800 kilograms per cubic metre
- the best solution to the landfill space issue is to reduce waste generation in the first place
- …. ultimate solution to the landfill issue is to reduce waste going to landfills, and divert as much waste as possible to recycling and composting [as long as it’s feasible and practical – depends on the type of waste, and local processing facilities and systems available too]