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What happens to trash in a landfill?

Julia Walters
Features Editor

Once trash is in a landfill, it is then covered in a rubber and clay barrier to keep liquids from seeping out and to contain the odor as much as possible, according to Molika Ashford from the science news website LiveScience. It’s then covered with an inch-thick plastic layer. The liquid formed by the mounds of trash is called leachate, and it’s drained out using drains and pipes.

Once a landfill has reached its capacity, it is covered yet again with clay and plastic, and then several feet of soil and plants. The main purpose of landfills is not to decompose waste, only to store it. However, the waste in landfills does decompose, it just decomposes very slowly. 

One major problem with landfills is that because the trash is underground in an oxygen-free environment, bacteria can thrive and produce methane gas, which is a major greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. Though, according to the Lancaster-based Frey Farm Landfill, gas that is produced is collected through methane tubes and is sold to a company called Energy Power Partners, an investment company that focuses on renewable energy options, who owns, operates and maintains the plant. 

Almost 15 percent of the trash that ends up in landfills could have been reused or recycled in some other way. If everyone does their part to recycle as much as possible, the enormous amount of trash in landfills and the methane gas that is produced as a result could be significantly reduced.