Pros & Cons Of Sending Plastic To Landfill

We previously put together a separate guide on the pros and cons of landfills in general.

However, in the interest of finding out the best way to dispose of plastic specifically, we’ve put together the guide below outlining the pros and cons of sending plastic to landfill.


Summary – Pros & Cons Of Sending Plastic To Landfill

Each of the main waste management options for plastic (landfill, recycling and incineration) has pros and cons to consider 

When it comes to sending plastic waste to landfill, some of the main potential benefits might be that it can be a cheap and easy alternative where incineration and recycling aren’t feasible, it provides a waste management option for plastic waste that is hard to recycle or can’t be recycled, and there isn’t the potential air pollution or emission concerns that incineration might have.

On the other hand, some of the main potential drawbacks might be that some cities or countries don’t have land available for landfill, the value of some plastics could be lost in landfill compared to finding another use for it, and, some unsecured landfills can lead to plastic getting out into the environment.

Ultimately, there are different variables to waste management in each city or town

Not only should the type of plastic, and individual plastic items and products being managed as waste be taken into account, but the waste management systems and capabilities of the city or town in question should too

Every local government needs to do a waste management assessment to figure out the best solution to manage or dispose of plastic in their region, in terms of what is best from an environmental, social, and economic perspective, but also consider what is practical. The strategies and solutions might be different for each

Something we pointed out in our guide about potential solutions to plastic problems across society is that some strategies and solutions might have an added focus and might include reducing the waste rate of some plastics in the first place


Pros Of Sending Plastic To Landfill

In some cities or towns, landfill may be the best waste management option for plastic overall, or according to specific indicators

Every city or town has different waste management programs, facilities and overall systems and capabilities

In some cities or towns, landfill could be the best waste management option for plastic across one or multiple indicators compared to incineration/burning plastic, or recycling plastic

As just one example, landfill in a particular city or town may be the most economical option, and in some cities and towns, it might be the only option if recycling or incineration options are not suitable or don’t exist


Landfills may help address some of the potential issues with recycling plastics

Landfill may be a better option than recycling plastics in some instances when considering the following potential issues with recycling:

Some plastics can’t be recycled at all

Some plastics can’t be recycled in some circumstances for a range of reasons (for example, some contaminated plastics can’t be recycled)

It’s not always profitable or economically feasible to recycle plastic

– Recycling some plastics can be inefficient, and consume more resources and energy than landfill


Landfills may help address some of the potential issues with burning plastics

Incinerating plastic at plants without proper pollutant and emission capture devices and technology can lead to air pollution/air contamination issues. Air pollution leads to lowered air quality

Even so, air pollutant and emissions capture devices and technology aren’t cheap

Plastic in landfill doesn’t emit air pollutants


Plastic doesn’t emit GHGs in landfill like other materials might

Plastic isn’t an organic material like food matter for example, and this means it doesn’t emit methane in landfill like organic materials do when it breaks down


Landfill provides the benefit of isolating plastic to one location

In a landfill site with a good landfill liner, effective leachate management system, and that is well contained/secure/closed off around the perimeter, the plastic is contained to one area

There’s less chance it leaks and becomes plastic pollution in the environment, and there may be less chance that microplastics have the chance to spread around the environment if plastic is contained to a landfill


The end destination for a lot of plastic is landfill anyway

Because some plastics can only be recycled a limited number of times, plastic that gets recycled often finds it’s way to landfill eventually anyway.

Plastic may also end up in landfill if it’s rejected from recycling facilities for one reason or another.

Of the main waste management options, most plastic waste currently ends up in landfill.


Landfills may be more beneficial for low income countries, or for regions without developed waste management systems

Basic landfill sites can be cheaper and easier to set up and run than recycling facitilites and incineration plants

For some countries without much money to invest, or with underdeveloped waste management systems, they may be the best option


Plastic may take up less space in landfill than some other materials

Some reports indicate that plastic takes up less space in landfills than paper


Cons Of Sending Plastic To Landfill

Some cities and towns don’t have extra land available for landfills

Some cities and towns only have a limited amount of land available for landfills, with some island cities and towns being one potential example

For these cities and towns, landfills may not be a viable long term option


Plastic still takes up space in landfill, and can occupy that space for a long time

The more plastic that becomes waste and ends up in landfill, the more space that is being taken up in landfills.

A potential issue with this is that plastic takes longer than most materials to break down, so, the plastic might be occupying landfill space for a long time.


Recycling plastic may be more beneficial in some ways than sending plastic to landfill

There may be more of an economic, social or environmental benefit when recycling some plastics instead of sending them to landfill.

One example is that some plastics bottles can be profitable and easy to recycle


Burning/incinerating plastic may be more beneficial in some ways than sending plastic to landfill

There may be more of an economic, social or environmental benefit when burning/incinerating some plastics instead of sending them to landfill.

For example, some plastics may not be recyclable, but may provide more of an overall return for the economy if they are sent to waste to energy plants instead of landfills.

This might especially be the case when the incineration technology and devices used can significantly minimise or eliminate air pollution and emissions, and there is an effective method in place to deal with incinerator ash and waste


Plastic packaging that ends up in landfill may result in lost value

Something that has been previously pointed out on this site is that there can be lost value in plastic packaging with high waste rates that aren’t retained for subsequent use.

So, there may be other ways we can look at extracting the value out of plastic packaging other than using it once and sending it straight to landfill

Re-using, repurposing for secondary uses, or sending plastic waste to energy plants may be potential solutions


Unsecure, uncontained, and open landfill and dumping sites can be an issue

Something we pointed out in our guide about plastic pollution is that plastic can leak into the environment from open dumping sites, and from landfill sites that aren’t adequately contained or secure.

So, landfills need to be adequately contained to prevent this


Some plastics may be more of a problem than others in landfills

There’s question over the toxicity and leaching of specific types of plastic in landfills.

For example, some types of chlorinated PVC plastic, and plastics with certain synthetic additives, may release toxic or hazardous chemicals in some instances.

Landfills that contain these types of plastics might need an adequate landfill liner and leachate management system that prevents leaking of these chemicals, and contamination into the environment or to soil and freshwater sources

Liners also need to be replaced after a certain amount of years


Some plastic problems might be best addressed by reducing plastic waste in the first place

Waste management options like landfill come into consideration only when plastic becomes waste.

But, as we’ve outlined in our guide about potential solutions to plastic problems across society, some of these solutions might require us to focus on producing less plastic waste in the first place.

Sending plastic to landfills may be only a second priority in comparison to some of these solutions.




1. Various other BMR guides on plastic and waste management



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