What Do Landfills Do With Plastic?

Rubbish that cannot be recycled or reused is thrown away and usually ends up at a landfill site.

Landfill sites are used by households and businesses all around the world to dispose of waste. Essentially, they are designated sites, where waste is piled up either above ground or inside a pit, dug into the ground.

Depending on where in the world a landfill is, it may have to comply with regulations to help to protect the environment and human health.

However, with or without regulations, there’s no escaping the fact that landfills are not good for the environment and are a major source of pollution.

Let’s find out a little more about the problems with landfill sites and why we should all be working together to reduce the amount of waste we produce.


Why are landfills bad?

Most of us give little thought to where all the rubbish we throw out ends up and it’s unlikely that we’ll ever need to visit a landfill site either, so it’s a case of out of sight, out of mind.

Let us tell you though, there’s nothing pleasant about an unimaginably huge pile of decaying waste.

If you put aside the fact that landfills are an awful eyesore and give off a pungent stench (and these are their most redeeming qualities) they are also extremely harmful to the environment.

Over time, the waste in a landfill will begin to (very slowly) decompose. As it decomposes, it produces toxins that pollute our environment and greenhouse gases that pollute our air.


Many items that end up in our landfills, such as electronic appliances, already contain hazardous toxic substances, but even those that don’t, to begin with, can produce them as they decompose.

One toxic substance that landfills create is leachate. Leachate is formed when water filters through waste as it decomposes.

Leachate is highly toxic, and extremely harmful to the environment if it is allowed to filter into land, groundwater, or waterways.

Greenhouse gases

Landfills are usually covered to prevent waste from being exposed to the environment. However, covering them up and removing oxygen causes waste to begin breaking down by an anaerobic process. This process then releases large quantities of the greenhouse gas methane into the environment.

Methane is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide, another greenhouse gas that is also given off by the waste decaying in landfills. Landfills produce around 12% of the world’s total methane emissions.

Methane is highly flammable and is one of the biggest contributors to climate change and global warming.

Why is it bad to put plastic in landfills?

Putting plastic pollution in landfills causes some pretty huge environmental problems.

Firstly, plastic is very durable and takes an extremely long time to break down, it could end up sitting in that landfill forever. If plastic does break down, it doesn’t decompose and vanish, it turns into smaller pieces of plastic or tiny microplastics which continue to pollute the environment.

Secondly, plastic is full of toxic substances which, over time, leach into the earth and pollute the soil, poison wildlife, and run off into our groundwater and waterways.

How long does plastic last in a landfill?

According to National Geographic, since mass production of plastic began, we have produced around 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic; and most of that plastic is still around today.

There are lots of different types of plastic, including PET (Polyetphylene terephthalate) plastic, HDPE (High-density polyethylene) plastic, LDPE plastic (Low-density polyethylene) plastic, Polypropylene, and polystyrene.

The length of time that a piece of plastic takes to degrade will depend on several factors including its size and form and the type of plastic it is made from. However, most plastic pollution in landfills will take hundreds of years to degrade.

Collection of food waste packaging

What happens to the plastic you throw away?

Most of the plastic you throw away rather than recycling will end up in a landfill, where it will remain for centuries, perhaps even longer, slowly leaching toxic substances into the environment.

Some of the plastic that gets sent to the landfill will end up blowing away in the wind, particularly if it is lightweight. This plastic will end up littering our green spaces or polluting our oceans and waterways.

To help tackle our planet’s plastic problem and reduce the amount of waste going to landfills we should all need to:

  • Recycle rather than throw away.
  • Buy recycled and recyclable products.
  • Reuse, repurpose or donate where possible.
  • Only buy what you need.
  • Make eco-friendly buying decisions.
Learn more about how Nereus London are helping to fight against plastic pollution.