It’s no secret that millions of tons of trash end up in landfills every year. And unfortunately, some of that trash ends up in our waterways as well as the ocean. But even the trash in the landfills causes pollution of the air. How big of an issue is this pollution from garbage? Read on to learn more!

What Causes Air Pollution?

Air pollution comes from car exhausts, factories, dust, pollen, and even volcanoes and wildfires. But landfills are also responsible for releasing pollution into the air. Organic matter that is tossed into landfills decomposes and releases methane gas, which can add to air pollution. Separating the organic matter out and keeping it from entering landfills is one way to help reduce this methane gas from releasing.

This pollution caused by trash can actually be used as energy if properly captured, but often it escapes into the air instead.

What Causes Air Pollution?

Sources of Land Pollution

Landfills are also responsible for another type of pollution; land pollution. Unfortunately, when rain falls on a landfill, it leaches toxic chemicals created from the standing material. It can then travel to nearby water systems, which can in turn kill aquatic life.

The area around landfills, whether surrounded by water or not, are greatly affected by the pollution. Local species of animals are usually replaced by scavengers that feed off of the garbage, such as rats and crows. Some plant species that cannot survive in the toxic conditions are also replaced by more hardy species.

But it’s not just landfills that pollute the areas around them. Litter and illegal dumping can also be causes of pollution and can harm the environment immediately around them.

What Causes Air Pollution?

The Effects of Illegal Dumping

Illegal dumping usually happens in wooded lots near neighborhoods, but can happen anywhere. The effects of illegal dumping are similar to pollution from landfills, but also come with their own set of issues. These issues are:

  • Wildlife affected: the surrounding wildlife will undergo the same issues mentioned above with landfills. Species of both plants and animals that can thrive off the garbage being there replace more vulnerable species.

  • Groundwater contamination: the trash accumulating in an undesignated area leads to pollution of nearby waterways, which can include rivers, streams, or even sources for drinking water.

  • Risk of fire is increased: the garbage not only releases methane as it decomposes, but other materials can be mixed in the process, creating a flammable mixture.

  • Property values decrease: having a makeshift landfill in the neighborhood isn’t desirable for anyone looking to purchase a home.

  • Health issues can increase: these trash piles are the breeding grounds of potential disease carrying insects and animals such as mosquitoes, rats, and skunks.

  • It costs you money: if you are lucky, a nonprofit organization may be called in to help take care of the issue. If not, city funding will have to be allocated to the cleanup, removing funds from other government-backed ventures.

How Unhealthy is Garbage Pollution?

As mentioned above, garbage pollution can be the breeding grounds for animals and insects that carry disease. They are better-suited for areas such as garbage piles, and scavenge off the scraps to survive. If the pollution isn’t taken care of, risk of diseases such as Dengue Fever, Yellow Fever, Encephalitis and malaria.

Issues such as these can cause other health conditions as well. In Lebanon, where waste management is not as advanced as other areas, they have open burn areas for waste. However, this pollution can cause health conditions such as “chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, coughing, throat irritation, skin conditions, and asthma. Air pollution from open waste burning has been linked to heart disease and emphysema and can expose people to carcinogenic compounds” (source).

That is why it is vital to reduce garbage pollution of any kind from spreading diseases, health conditions, and toxic waste throughout our neighborhoods.

What About Plastic Pollution?

While organic material is responsible for large amounts of methane buildup, another issue comes through inorganic material: plastic pollution. Plastic is used in nearly every consumer product nowadays, and it can be tough to leave supermarkets and consumer stores without purchasing something created with plastic. A large portion of our drinking water is sold in plastic bottles. But, if these inorganic materials don’t cause methane buildup, how are they causing pollution?

Plastic in landfills can take up to 1,000 years to decompose, so what usually ends up happening is the bottles, bags, and other items end up washing away into nearby waterways, affecting marine life. Animals can not only die from suffocation (for example, a turtle getting their head stuck in a plastic soda can holder), but also from ingesting the plastic floating in the water. Plastic also contains organic pollutants, such as PCBs and DDTs, that can harm marine wildlife as well.

Using alternatives to plastic can help to reduce the amount going into landfills or ending up in our water.

What Causes Air Pollution?

Common Alternatives to Plastic Items

Using a few of these alternatives to common plastic items can greatly help reduce the effects of plastic pollution:

  • Water bottles: purchase a reusable water container and fill it up for water. Water filters such as Brita can be used to filter water, or large plastic reusable jugs can be purchased and refilled at supermarkets for very cheap.

  • Grocery bags: large cloth bags can be purchased and reused when grocery shopping. A simple tip is to keep them in your trunk so you never forget to bring them to the store. Another more compostable option is to use paper bags instead of plastic.

  • Plastic straws: though tiny, refusing to use these can greatly help reduce the impact on the environment. When out at a restaurant, simply ask to not be served a straw. Alternatively, you can bring along a metal straw. Some restaurants have even adopted the use of paper straws, which can greatly help reduce pollution.

Creating a Better Environment

By being conscious of our use of plastic and other disposable materials, reducing food waste and trying to reduce our carbon footprint, we can reduce the impact of the pollution that is created from landfills. If we stay diligent with our decisions, we can work to create a better environment with less pollution!