Ever wonder what is involved when you send stuff to the landfill? There is much more to it than a big heap of junk on which the garbage truck puts the latest refuse on top. Landfills have quite a bit of science and engineering that go into them. All of this adds up to quite a bit of cost, time and effort dedicated to other people’s trash.
Landfills are Structures
You may have the idea in your head that a landfill is simply a hole in the ground that trash is dumped into. This couldn’t be further from the truth. A landfill is actually an engineered and built structure that is designed to separate the trash from the land around it. A landfill is designed to prevent the local environment and ground water from being contaminated by the trash that is disposed of there.
What Happens to the Trash Sent There?
When trash is sent to a landfill, the plan is not for it to break down. Landfills are actually designed to bury the trash instead of letting it break down. Oxygen and moisture, two of the things necessary for decomposition, are actually on short supply in a landfill. This means that a landfill is designed with the idea that the trash will be part of the land. Active and closed landfills are monitored for up to 30 years to ensure that there are no issues.
The Anatomy of a Landfill
There are several parts that compose a landfill:
Bottom Liner – This is the part of the landfill that does the hard work of keeping trash separated from the environment. It is typically made of a synthetic plastic called HDPE designed to be puncture resistant and work with the surrounding soil.
Cells – These are the parts of the landfill that are designed to hold the trash. Waste comes into a landfill and is then placed into a cell. Once there, the waste is compacted and shredded by heavy machinery.
Leachate Collection – Leachate is the liquid that can be trapped inside of a landfill. Since the intention is that there be little to no moisture in the cell, this must be removed. The process involves sloping the cells so that the moisture and liquids drain off and are collected by the leachate collection system.
Storm Water System – Landfills are open, which means that storms will create runoff. Runoff could carry away waste from a cell, so a system has to be designed in order to prevent this from happening. Rainwater is carried away while the waste settles out.
Methane Collection – Methane, or natural gas, is the byproduct of decomposition. This gas is flammable and explosive, so it must be collected to prevent problems. Pipes are used to collect and direct the Methane away.
Cap – Landfill waste must be covered. This is done either by compacted soil, a spray on material or large panels of tarpaulin that is placed and removed from day to day.
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