The Sanitary Landfill As An Ecosystem

The most common method of solid waste management is burial in a sanitary landfill (Figure 6.2). In this way, solid waste is stored in a manner that isolates it from human exposure. The nonorganic fraction of waste in a landfill is essentially stored permanently but the organic fraction can decompose. Thus, the landfill is an ecosystem because it includes living processes. Although landfills are often viewed negatively by the general public, they do provide a necessary function and are the least expensive option available. There are also examples of storage systems in nature that have some analogies with the landfill and that provide useful functions (Table 6.2).

The conventional engineering aspects of landfills are well developed (Bagchi, 1990) and are the result of a long design history. Landfills evolved from dumps where solid waste is left in the open on the surface of the ground. Solid waste is buried in trenches or depressions of the landfill and covered every day with at least 15 cm (6 in.) of clean dirt. The daily covering is done to exclude pests and to prevent the outbreak of fires. The practice of landfilling began in the early 1900s, but it became commonplace after World War II. From the beginning, landfills were

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