Landfills and dumps poison our air, water, land, and food supplies, and their use fuels an unsustainable linear system of consumption and wasting. As the largest human-created source of methane gas, landfills are also a significant contributor to global climate change.
Gases escaping from landfills contain toxic pollutants that can cause cancer, asthma, and other serious health effects. Studies link living near landfills with cancer, where escaping gases will typically carry toxic chemicals such as paint thinner, solvents, pesticides, and other hazardous volatile organic compounds. All dumps also leak toxic leachate; even “state-of-the-art” landfills will eventually leak and pollute nearby groundwater.
Landfills are also a significant contributor to climate change. They are the largest global source of human-created methane emissions, a toxic climate-changing gas that is 25 to 72 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
In addition to releasing significant greenhouse gases, waste disposal in landfills and dumps also drives a lifecycle climate-changing system that is steeped in unsustainable patterns of consumption, transportation, energy use, and resource extraction. The amount of waste we contribute to landfills represents only the tip of a very big iceberg. For every ton of municipal discards wasted, more than 70 tons of manufacturing, mining, oil and gas exploration, agricultural, coal combustion, and other discards are produced. Our use of landfills thus feeds a system in which a constant flow of resources need to be pulled out of the Earth, processed in factories, shipped around the world, and buried in our communities.
Some landfills have systems that attempt to capture the toxic gases they create. Landfill gas capture systems should not be subsidized by governments under renewable
energy and green power incentive programs or carbon trading schemes,
however. Preventing potent methane
emissions altogether should be prioritized over strategies that offer
only limited emissions mitigation. Indeed, all landfill operators
should be required to collect the landfill gases they create; they
should not be subsidized to do this!
The negative environmental and social impacts of landfill and dump use can be completely eliminated when a zero waste path is chosen. Source reduction, reuse, and recycling can avoid significant greenhouse gas emissions and the poisoning of our air, land and water. Learn more about landfills' impact on climate change in GAIA's Stop Trashing the Climate report, and how GAIA is addressing the links between wasting and our climate through its global Zero Waste for Zero Warming campaign.