Merits and demerits of sanitary landfill

Description of sanitary landfill

A sanitary landfill is a waste disposal facility where layers of compacted garbage are covered with layers of earth. When the facility reaches capacity, a cap is applied to close the site. The site for a sanitary landfill needs to be selected with care. Ideally, it should be located above the water table, in an area which is not geologically active. Other considerations may have to do with aesthetics; because landfills can be odorous at times, they are generally not located in immediate proximity to residential communities. The land also must be inexpensive to make the cost of operating the landfill worth it, and it must be accessible to roads so that garbage can be easily delivered.

Preparation of the site begins with establishing liners. It is common to start with a compacted clay base, followed by synthetic liners, with pipelines to trap and carry materials which leach from the landfill, including fluids and gases. Then, deposition of garbage can begin. At any given time, the landfill has a small exposed working area, with the rest of the site being covered. Maintaining a working area at a sanitary landfill minimizes pests such as rodents and insects. This can be costly, and at landfills that lack funds, exposed garbage can create a serious health hazard.

One of the biggest problems with a sanitary landfill is the environmental hazard. As materials inside the layers of compacted garbage break down, they generate gases, including methane, which are flammable. Some landfills simply vent these gases, while others actively trap them, using them as fuel. Landfills also generate leachates, materials which could damage the natural environment if they end up in the water table, making control of leaching critical.

Once a sanitary landfill is closed, the work does not stop. The site needs to be maintained and monitored. Often, landfills are reclaimed once they are full, with the area on top being used to make sports fields, parks, office parks, and so forth. These uses can only be approved when it is clear that the site has been well secured, and when there are systems in place to handle methane gas and other materials which may leach or vent from the landfill.

Merits of sanitary landfills:

  • There are many advantages of sanitary landfills. The main advantage is that burying can produce energy and can be obtained by the conversion of landfill gas.
  • The waste products of sanitary landfills can be used as direct fuel for combustion or indirectly they can be processed into another fuel.
  • Sanitary landfill is a specific location for waste deposition that can be monitored.
  • On completion of the sanitary landfill it can be reclaimed and it can be used as parks or farming land.
  • In properly designed sanitary landfills the waste can be processed and all recyclable materials can be used before closing.
  • Organic material can also be separated from a properly designed sanitary landfill which can be used for compost or production of natural gas.
  • The sanitary landfills that are properly managed can capture the natural gas or methane that is produced by the underground decomposing material.

Demerits of sanitary landfills:

  • Landfills that are poorly designed or operated share more problems that are faced at the uncontrolled dumping areas.
  • The areas surrounding the landfills become heavily polluted.
  • Landfill can pollute air, water and also the soil.
  • In a poorly developed landfill it is difficult to keep the dangerous chemicals from leaching out into the surrounding area.
  • Dangerous chemicals can seep into the ground water system.
  • Many insects and rodents are attracted to landfills and can result in dangerous diseases.
  • It can cause diseases and illness in the communities living around the landfill.


Herrera, C. X. M. (2011). “Characterization of bacterial diversity at different depths in the Moravia Hill Landfill site at Medellín, Colombia”. Soil Biology and Biochemistry 43 (6): 1275–1284

Richard, W. (2005). “Part 3: The Sanitary Landfill”. A Brief History of Solid Waste Management in the US During the Last 50 Years. New York: Sage Publication.

Miller, O. (2008). Landfill Inventory Management Ontario – How Ontario regulates Landfills – Ministry of the Environment. Ontario: McGraw Inc.

Zimmerman, J. B. (2014). “Estimates of solid waste disposal rates and reduction targets for landfill gas emissions”. Nature Climate Change. advance publication.

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