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The truth about landfills

Updated: Aug 4, 2023


Landfills are often mentioned in the conversation of climate change, and you’re all probably aware that they’re not good for the environment; but why exactly are they harmful? Well, a quick Google search will tell you that landfills produce methane, a dangerous greenhouse gas that continues to heat up our Earth. However, there’s other, lesser known, dangers associated with landfills that need to be acknowledged.

But this isn’t to say that methane emissions are any less important to acknowledge. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, methane gas is far more effective in trapping heat in the atmosphere than CO2, and municipal solid waste landfills are the third most significant contributor to human-related methane emissions in the US. 111 countries have signed the Global Methane Pledge, a pledge to reduce emissions by 30% by 2030.

But some countries, such as India, refuse to sign the Global Methane Pledge. India defends its decision with the claim that most of its methane emissions are “survival” emissions from agricultural practices, and less than 15% of its methane emissions come from landfills. But there’s another problem with their landfills that's equally as threatening: landfill fires that can wreak havoc on their surrounding environment.

Recently, one of India’s landfills, dubbed a “trash mountain,” burst into flames and cloaked the city of Kochi and its residents with toxic fumes. But this isn't the first time it happened. This occured last year as well at one of Delhi’s large landfills. Following this, toxins from Delhi’s landfills have made their way into the water supply for decades, sending contaminant levels in the water well above the limit.

There’s more. Residents near Delhi’s Balswa landfill have reported painful skin and respiratory problems due to living near the site. And it’s not just India. Numerous studies have been conducted regarding the association between increased health problems and working and living near landfills in places such as South Africa and the EU.

Landfills don’t just put our natural environment at risk; they put the people living in it at risk as well. Without landfills, we would be a step closer not only to a healthier atmosphere but also a healthier society.

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