How Landfill Works

Modern landfill sites are highly-engineered, state-permitted environments where municipal solid waste is disposed of effectively, legally and safely.

The landfill problem
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The landfill problem

However, the UK currently buries over 18.8 million tonnes of household waste each year. That’s two million tonnes more household waste than any other European country.

The UK is therefore currently predicted to run out of landfill sites by 2020. If reductions in the amount of paper, food and garden waste being sent to landfill sites are not met, taxpayers will be handed the costs of dealing with the waste.

Although everything is being done to avoid filling landfills to capacity, they are still an important part of waste disposal that must be managed carefully and correctly. Here’s how a typical landfill works - by the team at CSH Environmental.

Natural Ground Layer
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Natural Ground Layer

This foundation layer of soil is naturally occurring and is also home to groundwater. Groundwater is a naturally occurring saturation of water beneath the earth’s surface and is found everywhere. It needs protecting because groundwater is often linked to our local water reserves.

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Did you know?

CSH Environmental invested major funds into specialist machinery designed to sort through collected waste so that a majority of it can be diverted from landfill. New tax legislation meant that businesses had a choice to either invest in machinery to process the waste or pay more tax to bury the waste. CSH could have easily paid more in taxes, but for the well-being and future of the environment, we decided to do more to help the UK's recycling problems.

Bottom Liner
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Bottom Liner

The bottom liner is the final layer of defense that prevents buried waste from coming into contact with natural soils and groundwater beneath the landfill. Municipal solid waste landfills use bottom liners that are made of high-grade, durable plastics that are puncture resistant and range from 30 to 100 mm thick.

Did you know?

In 2018, CSH Environmental recycled 57% of their total waste. This means that over 30,770 tonnes were diverted from landfill for other uses.

Compacted Clay Layer
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Compacted Clay Layer

Compacted clay layers act as a secondary barrier between landfill waste and the ground. They are typically 12 to 24 inches in thickness.

Did you know?

Of those 30,770 tonnes, we converted 42% of that waste into energy. In total, we processed 23,131 tonnes of waste and turned it into fuel.

Leachate Collection System
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Leachate Collection System

The ground layer of every landfill is typically shaped like a cone, so that there is a low point where water can collect, known as the sump. Any liquids that are trapped in the landfill, known as leachate, will run into the sump to be collected and removed at a later date. This is a large part of the leachate collection system. A series of perforated pipes, gravel packs and sand layers is placed throughout the landfill to gather the leachate into the sump effectively. Leachate is either treated on-site or transported to a wastewater treatment facility.

Did you know?

CSH Environmental process thousands of tonnes of waste per year. Of all our recycled waste, we divert 99% of it away from landfill. This waste goes on to be used as fuel and is made into other useful materials.

HPDE Liner
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HPDE Liner

The primary liner, called the HDPE liner, is made using vast sections of high-density polyethylene plastic sheeting. These sheets are heat-welded together (a sophisticated melting process) to create a single impermeable membrane. This is the main prevention measure for the escape of leachate.

Did you know?

Up to 60% of the rubbish that ends up in the dustbin could be recycled?

Textile Mat
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Textile Mat

Geotextiles are matted together (not woven) to act as a protective ‘cushion’ for the HDPE plastic liner. It’s a tough, yet soft, liner that divides the granular level above from the highly important HDPE liner.

Did you know?

Mature landfills offer a source of green energy in the form of methane gas, which is collected via a sophisticated gas collection system.

Granular Layer
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Granular Layer

A layer that helps with the drainage of the leachate towards the leachate collection system.

Did you know?

The average domestic rubbish bin contains enough potential energy to power a television for 5,000 hours.

Soil Protective Layer
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Soil Protective Layer

Another protective layer, this time intended to keep the HDPE plastic liner, geotextile layer and granular layer from damage by solid landfill waste. It is typical soil laid over the top of the previous layers in 12 to 24 inches thickness.

Did you know?

Every vehicle on the road contains up to 80% recyclable materials.

Cells (old and new)
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Cells (old and new)

The cells make up the vast majority of what you can see on the surface of a landfill site. It is known as the workface, as this is where landfill waste is brought for disposal and compaction. Cells range in size from a few acres to over 20 acres. Inside the larger cells are smaller cells which make up the daily workface. Heavy landfill compaction and shredding machinery make light work of any waste delivered to site.

Did you know?

On average, every product that you buy has 16% of its value spent on packaging costs. This packaging ultimately ends up as rubbish, whether it is recyclable or not.

Stormwater Drainage
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Stormwater Drainage

This system redirects surface water during heavy rainfall. The water runs through a series of ditches and berms before settling in sed ponds. Water flow is slowed down enough to allow soil particles to settle before the water is discharged off-site.

Did you know?

One recycled glass bottle saves enough energy to power a computer for 25 minutes.

Methane Collection System
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Methane Collection System

Waste in the landfill is broken down over time due to the presence of bacteria. This micro-biological process produces landfill gases as a by-product of which 50% is methane. Methane is highly flammable and must be removed for safety purposes. A series of pipes are therefore in place and their job is to collect the methane gas. It is then naturally vented or burned in a controlled way.

Did you know?

The average UK household creates approximately one tonne of waste per year. This is the same weight as a small car.

Daily Cover or Cap
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Daily Cover or Cap

When the landfill workers leave the site overnight the waste must be covered over with a cap. This can be done in many ways. For many years, a compacted soil cap of about six inches was applied every evening. Today, the cap is sometimes made of a temporary spray material, such as foam or a flame-retardant fiber material. Heavy duty tarpaulin can also be used. The cap is removed each morning so that waste can continue to be placed. The cap is designed to reduce the incidence of pests - such as birds, mice and rats - and controls the odours that are produced by landfill.

Did you know?

70% less energy is used in paper production when it is recycled from old paper, rather than creating new paper from scratch.

Closed Cells
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Closed Cells

When a section of cells are filled to capacity, they are permanently covered with a combination of polythene plastic, compacted soil and a layer of topsoil. The topsoil is there to encourage the growth of vegetation and prevent soil erosion.

Did you know?

60% of all aluminium cans sold in the UK are recycled. However, aluminium is easily recycled, meaning that in reality the goal is for every can sold to be recycled.

Clay Liner
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Clay Liner

A soil liner is created using compacted clay laid at 18 inches in thickness.

Did you know?

UK consumers use over 12 billion cans every year. That’s enough to reach the moon and back if they were laid end to end.

LLDPE Liner
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LLDPE Liner

LLDPE stands for Low Linear Density PolyEthylene. This liner is typically 40 mm in thickness.

Did you know?

Did you know that it can take as little as 7 days to take and old newspaper and turn it into a new one, via a state-of-the-art recycling facility?

Textile Mat
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Textile Mat

Geotextile, non-woven fabrics act as a protective barrier above the LLDPE plastic liner.

Did you know?

Every year the UK uses 275,000 tonnes of plastic. That works out at around 15 million bottles every day and these are classified as ‘single-use’ plastics.

Erosion Vegetation Layer
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Erosion Vegetation Layer

The growth of grasses and plants is further encouraged by applying 12 inches of native soil and a further 6 inches of topsoil that is rich in nutrients. This eliminates soil erosion and helps to process the landfill waste far below this layer.

Did you know?

Five plastic bottles can be made into an extra large t-shirt or the filling for a ski-jacket or sleeping bag.

Groundwater Monitoring Stations
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Groundwater Monitoring Stations

These stations are placed uphill of the landfill site and downhill of the landfill site. This is so that an accurate picture of the water quality can be created before it passes under the landfill site. The downhill stations monitor water quality after it passes through the site for noticeable amounts of leachate chemicals. If contamination of the water is ever detected, the stations begin procedures to find and prevent the leachate leak.

Did you know?

The UK uses a woodland area the size of Wales every year to make paper products.

The Environment
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Impact on the environment and why you should reuse and recycle

Everytime you choose to reuse an item, that means you haven’t thrown it into the rubbish, which means it avoids landfill. Reuse that item 5 times and this is the same as diverting five of those items away from landfill.

When more and more people reuse items like this, it has a big impact on the amount of waste we produce as a society. The less waste we send to landfill, the slower the landfill is used up and the less need there is to open new landfill sites, something that is overall better for the environment.

Reusable items are found everywhere. In particular, water bottles and pop bottles are easy to refill and reuse, as are takeaway tupperwares, plastic bags and bags for life. Other reusable items that you may not know about are ink cartridges, which can be refilled with ink at some stores and reused. Electronics and appliances are also a source of waste and when these items break it’s best to repair, rather than replace them.

Of course, when these items are past their useful lifespan, dispose of them by recycling wherever possible, as this is the most eco-friendly method of disposal.

Did you know?

CSH Environmental have been working to improve recycling capabilities for over 40 years and we always aim to recycle 100% of your waste.