9 Environmental Impacts of Landfills

We remove our trash to maintain a clean environment and shield ourselves from dangerous germs and viruses. Nevertheless, the majority of our home waste—including food scraps and yard debris—ends up in sanitary landfills. Regrettably, this exacerbates the already serious environmental issues.

Inadequate waste management and disposal practices lead to unmanaged landfill issues, which exacerbate air, water, and soil pollution. Organic landfill garbage releases harmful gases during decomposition. Smog is a result of harmful landfill gases (LFG), which exacerbate respiratory conditions like asthma.

Environmental Impacts of Landfills

Even when done carefully, burying waste in the ground affects the ecosystem. The following lists the principal environmental issues that municipal dump sites cause.

  • Greenhouse Gas Emissions
  • Climate Change
  • Air Pollution and Atmospheric Effects
  • Fires or Explosions
  • Soil Contamination
  • Groundwater Contamination
  • Impacts Biodiversity
  • Habitat of Biodiversity
  • Landfills alter the fauna
  • Landfills reduce the value of the surrounding areas
  • Accidents sometimes occur on landfill sites

1. Greenhouse Gas Emissions

When municipal solid waste is dumped in a landfill, hazardous gas is released into the atmosphere, endangering all kinds of life.

Solid waste landfills have the potential to produce 442 m³ of gas, of which 55% is composed of natural gases such as methane. In landfill gas emissions, there are two main gas constituents and additional small amounts of others.

Methane and carbon dioxide are the main hazardous gases; additional gases that are present in trace amounts include ammonia, sulfide, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are not methane.

Furthermore, fresh organic and inorganic debris is produced in landfills by chemical and biological processes. Tri- and per-chloroethylene molecules, for example, react to generate vinyl chloride. Additionally, amino acids convert to methyl-mercaptans and sulfur compounds to hydrogen sulfide.

Certain types of industrial waste that are dumped in landfills also result in other greenhouse gases. For example, hydrogen sulfide is produced when big plaster boards deteriorate in landfills.

Methane, carbon dioxide, vinyl chloride, toluene, xylenes, and propylbenzene are all produced by landfills that take in industrial and municipal garbage.

2. Climate Change

Landfills produce and emit biogas into the atmosphere, which contributes to global warming. Methane gas (CH4) and carbon dioxide (CO₂), two of the gases that contribute to global warming and climate change, make up the majority of the mixture known as biogas.

The ISWA report states that by 2025, landfill sites will contribute 10% of greenhouse gas emissions if current trends continue and action is not taken.

Degassing is typically done after the landfill cell has been closed, so methane from the more readily biodegradable components will have already been released into the atmosphere before degassing occurs.

This is an improvement over conventional landfills, but there are still drawbacks to some of these landfills. Although they are only able to capture a fraction of the generated methane, horizontal degassing operations that seek to capture methane while the landfill cell is still operating yield superior results.

3. Air Pollution and Atmospheric Effects

Landfills release over ten harmful gases into the atmosphere, the most hazardous of which is methane gas, which is created spontaneously as organic matter breaks down.

According to the EPA, methane released during the organic matter’s decomposition in poorly managed landfills can trap solar energy 28 times more effectively than carbon dioxide. The result of heat-trapping is higher temperatures in cities and the world.

In addition to methane gas, various industrial and residential chemicals that end up in landfills—such as bleach and ammonia—can produce harmful gasses that have a significant negative influence on the local air quality. A further factor in poor air quality is the release of dust, particulate matter, and other non-chemical pollutants into the atmosphere.

4. Fires or Explosions

Explosions and fires can occasionally be caused by methane, which is produced by garbage from landfill sites. This drawback is more frequent than it first appears as the fires are not structure-related but rather originate from within the landfill.

The toxins that landfill fires release pose a risk to both human health and the environment. If a landfill fire breaks out, residents and firefighters nearby run the risk of breathing in hazardous fumes that could endanger their health.

The amount of municipal solid waste in the landfill, the type of fire, and the landfill’s topography all influence the extent of the fire outbreak and the health concerns associated with it.

High amounts of carbon and methane emissions are produced during the biological processes that break down decomposing organic material. The main sources of methane emissions are landfills.

Not only do these uncontrolled, spontaneous fires damage aquifers by compromising their waterproofing membranes, but they also release dioxin emissions that are extremely detrimental to the ecosystem.

3. Soil Contamination

Because contaminated materials (such as heavy metals like lead and mercury) from stored waste can seep into the surrounding soil and water, landfill sites are frequently to blame for soil contamination.

Because harmful substances can eventually seep through the surrounding soil, it also has an impact on the land next to it. These poisons damage the top layer of the soil, alter its fertility, and have an impact on plant life.

If the soil is exploited for agriculture, it disturbs the ecosystem of the land and may lead to health issues. Furthermore, even though waterproofing membrane ruptures are uncommon, they have a disastrous impact on the environment when they do.

4. Groundwater Contamination

Landfills for municipal solid waste frequently contaminate the groundwater in the vicinity of the dump. So how does the poisoning of groundwater happen?

Landfills not only release harmful gasses but also leachate. A liquid known as leachate seeps through the trash disposed of in a landfill. The liquid included in sewage sludge is an illustration of leachate.

The four main constituents of landfill leachate are nitrogen, heavy metals, volatile organic compounds, and poisonous organic compounds. Depending on the kind and age of landfill debris, leachate contains different amounts of poisonous and hazardous compounds.

Furthermore, variations in seasonal weather and overall precipitation levels have an impact on landfill leachate quality6. Leachate production is aided by surface runoff and rainfall in addition to biological breakdown.

The poisonous materials found in waste leachate are bad for people’s health. Chemicals bioaccumulate in living things and go up the food chain to humans.

According to studies on the toxicity of landfill leachates, non-ionized ammonia, tannins, and copper are among its harmful substances. Ammonia is poisonous and detrimental to both the environment and human health.

The study revealed that aquatic creatures are severely harmed by the ammonia level of leachate. Vegetation is impacted by high leachate concentrations in groundwater as well.

Leachate from landfills is a major issue, particularly at poorly built sites where liner systems intended to stop leachate from flowing into the environment are either nonexistent or insufficient.

5. Impacts Biodiversity

Multiple strategies exist for landfill sites to influence biodiversity. Clearing wild areas for landfill construction necessitates habitat damage and loss. Certain native species may be displaced if landfills fill up with other animals that consume trash, such as crows and rats.

The liquid that landfills produce is called leachate. This has the potential to turn toxic, contaminating surrounding lakes, ponds, and streams and harming the habitat of a wide variety of species.

This affects soil fertility as well. Decomposing organic matter and poisonous compounds together can be detrimental to the condition of the soil, altering plant life and soil fertility and activity.

6. Habitat of Biodiversity

One of the largest waste management facilities is a landfill. The development and existence of landfills have a significant impact on a variety of species and living things in the surrounding environment.

The establishment of a 100-ha landfill dump has an impact on local species by removing their habitats. Typically, landfills are located far from populated regions and human settlements.

Thus, to make way for the development of landfills, waste management agencies remove plants and trees. When land is cleared for landfills to store waste, the biological corridor and wildlife habitats are destroyed.

Additionally, landfills have an impact on the local species’ equilibrium. Hazardous waste products have the potential to draw in non-native animals. Trash disposal in landfills has a detrimental effect on the soil’s flora and fauna as well.

Pollution results from the interaction of toxic metals and chemicals with soil fauna (i.e., groundwater pollution). This contamination lowers the quality of the soil and hinders the growth of vegetation and other living forms.

7. Landfills alter the fauna

Bird migration is particularly negatively impacted by landfill sites. Some birds eat garbage from landfills, which means they will eventually swallow plastic, aluminum, gypsum, and other common waste items. This can even be lethal.

The fact that birds are changing their migratory patterns is yet another risk dump sites pose to them. A growing number of species have been seen in recent years abandoning their southern migration in favor of choosing to nest close to dump sites because of the abundant food sources they offer.

This is harmful not just because, as we have seen, this can be a lethal diet for them, but also because, as we have seen, their young already tend to disregard established migration patterns, making the issue worse with every generation.

8. Landfills reduce the value of the surrounding areas

It is nearly impossible to adequately manage the unpleasant odors that come from landfills, and they eventually spread to the surrounding communities. Reduced real estate values in the areas surrounding these waste management companies contribute to the further devaluation of impoverished communities.

9. Accidents sometimes occur on landfill sites

An estimated 113 people died when Ethiopia’s Addis Ababa dump site fell in March 2017. A landslide at the Meethotamulla dump site in Sri Lanka occurred just one month later, destroying over 140 dwellings, over 30 fatalities, and numerous unaccounted-for deaths.

Two laborers lost their lives when the Zaldívar landfill in Spain fell in February 2020. Landfill sites can occasionally become unstable terrain due to rain, spontaneous combustion, or excessive accumulation, posing a serious risk of landslides or collapse to adjacent residents and plant personnel.


Unsanitary conditions caused by poorly planned and maintained landfills can result in pollution and disease outbreaks. Additionally, landfills can seriously jeopardize groundwater and soil resources. Reusing and recycling goods, however, can help preserve natural resources and lessen the need for new products.


A passion-driven environmentalist by heart. Lead content writer at EnvironmentGo.
I strive to educate the public about the environment and its problems.
It has always been about nature, we ought to protect not destroy.

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