My trash got dumped into the landfill. Now, what happens?

A Better You

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — When you fill your trash cans, do you know what happens after it’s taken to the landfill?

Laurie Davis, the education outreach coordinator at the Department of Environmental Services for the City of Springfield, joins us to tell us just what happens to all of the trash that ends up at the landfill.

She explains that a piece of heavy equipment called a compactor goes over sections of trash all day long. The equipment has a GPS unit so that the operator knows how many times an area has been compacted. This is important because state regulations require a minimum of three compactions per section per day.

Davis says the compactor is equipped with spiked wheels, and is very heavy. So, with each drive over a section of trash, the waste is getting pushed down and shredded into smaller pieces, which helps pack as much material into a space as possible.

Compaction also slows down the rate of decomposition of material, Davis explains. So, instead of decomposing at a faster rate if left out to be exposed to sun, wind, rain, snow, hot and cold temperatures, the compacted material decomposes at a much slower rate, which means it will be around for a very long time.

At the end of each day, the exposed portion of the landfill area gets covered, which is a federal regulation. This helps keep trash from being blown out into the environment overnight and minimizes access from wildlife. The trash cover can be either a layer of soil placed over the surface or a giant tarp.

Material buried in the landfill produces several gases, including methane, which is highly combustible, so environmental technicians monitor gas wells that collect and remove methane gas. They also check on gas levels to make sure that gas is not building up in the landfill.

Davis says monitoring the impact of the trash on the environment is an ongoing responsibility, and even after the landfill closes, there will still need to be staff who watch the landfill so that the community’s air and water supplies continue to be safe.

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