Examples of Storage Components from Natural Ecosystems That Have Some Analogies with Landfills
Example Composition Useful Function
Hypolimnion of a eutrophic lake
Deposits of partially decomposed plant materials in certain wetlands
The bottom of a lake that doesn't mix with the surface due to density stratification
Standing dead trees in a forest
Substrate for living plants, low-grade energy source for humans
Anaerobic nutrient transformations
Habitat for wildlife, source of firewood for humans
Accumulations of shells from dead oysters that once made up living reefs
Deposits of feces from seabird colonies on oceanic islands
Substrate for live oysters, source of construction materials for humans
Source of fertilizers for humans designed to be covered over and landscaped after they were filled with solid wastes, in order to provide some useful end function. Thus, one common practice was to site a landfill on wetlands in order to reclaim the land for human land use. This practice was recognized as faulty starting in the 1950s and 1960s after hazards of liquids draining from the landfills (i.e., leachates) were identified and after the values of wetlands began to be understood. Thus, early landfills often were sited in the worst possible locations! An example is the Fresh Kills landfill outside of New York City, which is the largest landfill in the world. Fresh Kills was located on tidal wetlands in 1948. It has become a major source of pollution to the local coastal watersheds and is scheduled to be closed and redeveloped (Fulfer, 2002). Modern sanitary landfills are now sited to avoid groundwater drainage networks and are lined with up to a meter of dense clay and sheets of plastic in order to collect leachate and prevent it from reaching the groundwater.
Landfills produce gases from the decomposition processes that occur inside them. The sequence of gas production from a landfill is a reflection of the succession of microbial communities involved in decomposition (Figure 6.3). Landfill gas is composed mostly of methane and carbon dioxide along with a number of components in much smaller quantities. These gases are evidence of the ecological processes occurring in the landfill and can be collected, purified, and used as an energy source by humans. El-Fadel et al. (1997) provide simulation models for these gas dynamics. Figure 6.4 illustrates the landfill system including gas release and leachate collection.
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