Why do Landfills Exist?

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Landfills such as middens, are the oldest form of waste management. Modern landfills are very different from the rubbish dumps of the 20th century.

Old landfills

In ancient times human groups used to dump domestic waste in places called middens. Middens are places where food leftovers such as shellfish and animal bones, ash and charcoal from fires, and broken or worn out tools were thrown away, dumped or buried.

In the recent past landfills were called tips, dumps, rubbish dumps or dumping grounds. They were often poorly managed with little regard for the environment, for example there were no liners to prevent leachate seeping out.

The modern landfill

A modern landfill is very different. In a modern landfill solid waste (rubbish) is compacted and placed in the smallest area possible. The waste is then covered over with soil and monitored.

Together we are aiming for zero waste so that we don’t need to have landfills. Until technologies arrive that are able to treat ALL waste, we need to have landfills.

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Challenge: Find out if there is a midden near your place. See if you can visit the site and discover what it can tell you about the way the area was used in the past.

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The Environment and Modern Landfills

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In ancient times human groups used to dump domestic waste in places called middens. Image: LEARNZ.

In a modern landfill solid waste (rubbish) is compacted and placed in the smallest area possible, covered over with soil and monitored. Image: LEARNZ.