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    Updated on Aug 19, 2018. Posted on Aug 18, 2018

    I Didn't Know Anything About Landfills And Now I Know Too Much

    "Landfill gas" is somehow worse than it sounds??

    Hi, my name is Alana, and I thought my garbage bin was magic.

    HomePixel / Alana Mohamed / Via gettyimages.com

    Tossing the dreck that accumulates at the bottom of my bag is so #cleansing that I never wanted to think about where it all ends up.

    But then I learned what landfills actually are and I now realize that I don't know anything about anything.

    HBO / Via giphy.com

    Maybe you know something about this thing, but forgive me. I am the Jon Snow of trash. Trash Jon Snow. Tron Snow.

    For starters, when you picture a landfill, you probably picture something like this.

    Neenawat / Via gettyimages.com

    This, my friends, is a dump, a site where trash is piled on, with little to no regulation. It's a completely different operation from a landfill. There is an entire trash nomenclature out there I've been ignoring my whole life!

    This is what a landfill looks like.

    kwanchaichaiudom / Via gettyimages.com

    By itself, underwhelming. Compared to the dumps of yore, a pristine land of wonder.

    The landfills our household waste ends up in are known as Municipal Solid Waste Landfills (MSWLFs) and they're specifically engineered to keep our garbage from interacting with the environment. Here's an example of how a modern day MSWLF might operate:

    US EPA / Via epa.gov

    There are also landfills for toxic waste and waste from large corporations, but we're talking about my garbage for now.

    In the US, there are a bunch of requirements for where a landfill can and can't be built. For example, they can't be too close to airports, where waste could attract birds that would (yikes!) cause collisions with aircrafts.

    MGM / Via giphy.com

    Typically, a landfill has to be built somewhere remote, where there’s plenty of room (hundreds of acres) to process our trash efficiently. They can't be built in unsuitable geographic areas like wetlands or faults.

    Workers compact our trash into cells that contain a day's worth of waste, saving space. At the end of the day, they toss 6 inches of dirt or other materials onto the waste to keep it isolated.

    Mariusz_prusaczyk / Via gettyimages.com

    Fun fact: MSWLF workers hate mattresses because they can't be compacted like the rest of our trash, and the springs can get caught in their machinery.

    Since all our stuff is kept away from the elements, they actually can't decompose the way they normally would. Instead, they do something...a little bit worse??

    Willowpix / Via gettyimages.com

    Most stuff, like plastic, won't break down much in landfills. But organic matter, like grass clippings or leftover food, undergoes anaerobic decomposition, a bacteria-aided process that releases a combination of greenhouse gases we have, charmingly, dubbed "landfill gas." It is exactly as grody as you think it is.

    Landfill gas is primarily made up of carbon dioxide and methane gas, both greenhouse gases that trap heat below the earth's atmosphere.

    Netflix / Via media.giphy.com

    MSWFLs are the third-largest source of human-produced methane emissions in the US. That's why it's so important to compost your food scraps, yard trimmings, and even natural fibers. See if you can find a composting facility near you. You can always compost at home, too!

    Landfills can either vent methane into the air (!!), burn it, or sell it as an energy source. But they also have to monitor their methane production and report findings to the government.

    Comedy Central / Via giphy.com

    Part of that means making sure gas generated by the facility is under 25% of the "lower explosive limit," which sounds like a terrifying thing regardless of percentage. I am Team No Explosions Or Mentions Of Explosions, Please.

    I am also team No Gross Water, which is unfortunate because another inevitability of having all your trash hang out together is leachate.

    Prill / Via gettyimages.com

    Leachate happens when rain water mixes with waste and draws out chemicals from its new friends. Landfills can treat leachate with a number of processes to make them less toxic, or reuse it to promote degradation, but workers have to monitor water supplies closely to make sure it doesn't get into our water supply.

    Even then, the EPA had previously predicted that all landfills would eventually leak waste into the environment, even if it took "many decades." Despite their best efforts, all landfills are still large gatherings of garbage with temporary protections in place to minimize environmental harm.

    FOX / Via giphy.com

    That's why the EPA recommends diverting as much garbage as you possibly can from landfills by upping your recycling and composting game. You can also try buying fewer single-use items like coffee cups or disposable razors.

    I'm convinced this terrible, unseen future where we are all swimming in landfill muck is probably close (because 2018, duh), so I've been forced to reassess my Tote Bag of Dreck.

    No longer will I be able to dump all my crap into my waste bin and know peace of mind. I look forward to weekends spent carefully dividing my bag trash between composting and recycling.

    RIP, magic trash bin.

    Homepixel / Alana Mohamed / Via gettyimages.com

    Want to read more about sustainability? Check out these posts:

    Here's How To Start Composting

    16 Actually Easy Ways To Create Less Trash In 2018

    12 Things You Probably Didn't Know You Could Recycle

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