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When we think of the factors that ruin lives, landfill probably doesn’t even make the top 10 in most people’s minds. To say that landfill ruins lives may seem hyperbolic and dramatic but the proof is out there and we need to begin to face up to it. Animals, plants, and future generations are all facing the chronic effects of landfill and we shouldn’t just stand by and watch.
A heart-breaking photo of a bear taken by a photographer in Canada has raised the question: why are our wild animals ending up in landfills? The food waste found in landfills is attracting birds, mammals and rodents alike to feast on our leftovers. We may wonder why that’s a negative thing- we’re providing a food source for animals, right? Wrong. Whether you’re a pet-owner or not, you will know that the food we eat is not always suitable for animal consumption. We could in fact be giving animals who end up in our landfills food poisoning, or worse.
Not only are landfills changing animal habitats, they are also destroying their natural habitats. We are cutting down trees and clearing land to extend our landfill sites, but these areas are the homes of hundreds of different species. WWF states that loss of habitat is one of the largest threats to 85% of the species in the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. According to Sciencing.com the creation of a landfill site could result in the loss of up to 300 species per hectare.
Flora and Food Chain
As well as the direct effects on animals, landfills are having an indirect effect on them too. Waste sent to landfill is often laden with chemicals that can affect plant growth in surrounding areas if it leaches into the ground. The chemicals contaminate plants and waters, which are then consumed by animals lower in the food chain. This contamination at the very root of the animal hierarchy means that all species in the food chain could be affected.
Perhaps, the most underestimated damaging effect that landfill brings is the effect on future generations. Waste in landfill is biodegrading and while it does, it produces a ‘landfill gas’ which comprises of carbon dioxide and methane. Landfills are estimated to account for 3–19% of anthropogenic methane emissions globally. Studies have shown that future generations may have to deal with more frequent wildfires, droughts and tropical storms as a result of climate change that stems from these harmful greenhouse gases.
What can we do?
In the UK, the Clean Growth Strategy states that low carbon innovation is at the heart of the new plan, with over £2.5 billion of government investment from 2015 to 2021. This is, without a doubt, a step in the right direction but what can we do as individuals?
Firstly, we can reduce our food waste going to landfill. Food waste can undergo Anaerobic Digestion to produce biogas and electricity. That means if we divert it from landfill, we not only avoid it reaching the wrong paws, but we also put it to good use.
We can also reduce our general household waste, going to landfill. Plastics, paper and clothes tend not to biodegrade in landfills due to the lack of light, water and oxygen. Not only that, they are materials that can and should be reused and recycled. If everyone takes simple steps, we can ensure that waste that is currently being landfilled enters the circular economy instead.
At a corporate level, for those in the waste industry, there is also more that can be done. Advanced technology means that waste streams that have been traditionally sent to landfill, now have a more environmentally friendly and cost effective output. Waste such as street sweepings, hydro-excavation materials and waste glass can all be treated and turned into a resource.
We can and should be doing so much more.
For more information on landfill diversion or to enquire about a solution for your waste, get in contact: firstname.lastname@example.org