Landfills receiving a mix of waste, including organics, have developed dramatically over the last 3–4 decades; from open dumps to engineered facilities with extensive controls on leachate and gas. The conventional municipal landfill will in most climates produce a highly contaminated leachate and a significant amount of landfill gas. Leachate controls may include bottom liners and leachate collection systems as well as leachate treatment prior to discharge to surface water. Gas controls may include oxidizing top covers, gas collection systems with flares or gas utilization systems for production of electricity and heat.The importance of leachate and gas control measures in reducing the overall environmental impact from a conventional landfill was assessed by life-cycle-assessment (LCA). The direct cost for the measures were also estimated providing a basis for assessing which measures are the most cost-effective in reducing the impact from a conventional landfill. This was done by modeling landfills ranging from a simple open dump to highly engineered conventional landfills with energy recovery in form of heat or electricity. The modeling was done in the waste LCA model EASEWASTE. The results showed drastic improvements for most impact categories. Global warming went from an impact of 0.1 person equivalent (PE) for the dump to −0.05 PE for the best design. Similar improvements were found for photochemical ozone formation (0.02 PE to 0.002 PE) and stratospheric ozone formation (0.04 PE to 0.001 PE).For the toxic and spoiled groundwater impact categories the trend is not as clear. The reason for this was that the load to the environment shifted as more technologies were used. For the dump landfill the main impacts were impacts for spoiled groundwater due to lack of leachate collection, 2.3 PE down to 0.4 PE when leachate is collected. However, at the same time, leachate collection causes a slight increase in eco-toxicity and human toxicity via water (0.007E to 0.013PE and 0.002 to 0.003 PE respectively). The reason for this is that even if the leachate is treated, slight amounts of contaminants are released through emissions of treated wastewater to surface waters.The largest environmental improvement with regard to the direct cost of the landfill was the capping and leachate treatment system. The capping, though very cheap to establish, gave a huge benefit in lowered impacts, the leachate collection system though expensive gave large benefits as well. The other gas measures were found to give further improvements, for a minor increase in cost.
Damgaard, A., Manfredi, S., Merrild, H. K., Stensøe, S., & Christensen, T. H. (2011). LCA and economic evaluation of landfill leachate and gas technologies. Waste Management, 31(7), 1532-1541. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wasman.2011.02.027