You may already know that most things we throw in the garbage ends up in a landfill. But you may not realize the vast and growing amount of space that landfills require, or what effect they have on the environment. The availability and popularity of disposable consumer products has increased greatly over the last 100 years, and the growing size of our landfills reflects this trend.
Here are a few reasons why recycling is so important to reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfills.
Despite what you may think, landfills are actually made in a way that prevents waste from disintegrating completely into the ground. Landfills are usually built with a base layer or liner of clay or other material that prevents decaying waste from entering the area’s groundwater. While it’s good that this design keeps most waste out of the groundwater, there are other aspects of the landfill that are harmful to the environment.
Gas pollution is a major aspect. As waste decomposes under the landfill layers, gasses, such as methane, are released that must be vented into the air or otherwise processed by a waste facility. When released into the atmosphere, these gasses contribute to the reduction of the ozone layer. These are called greenhouse gasses.
While some countries have developed infrastructure to incinerate most waste and convert the gasses into usable energy, most decomposition gasses end up in the atmosphere as greenhouse gasses.
While not all types of waste can be recycled, recycling helps to reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfills. Some materials, especially plastics, may take 100 years or more to decompose. Glass bottles can actually take up to one million years to decompose!
All of these items take up space in landfills for years without readily decomposing. Over time, more and more land must be dedicated to landfill, unless other methods of waste processing are made viable. This is where the importance of recycling is evident: landfill space can be saved greatly by keeping recyclable materials out of landfills. This is why it is so important to recycle as much as possible!
According to the Stanford University Land, Building, and Real Estate division, Americans each throw away about 7.5 pounds of waste per day. The recycling process itself can be costly (financially and energy-wise), but Stanford has reported data showing that the energy savings of recycling materials that would otherwise decompose in landfills greatly outweighs the cost of recycling. Further, the EPA notes that recycling is a great way for municipalities to keep and reuse raw materials that would otherwise be wasted in landfills.