An Overview of Waste Disposal Systems

As defined by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA),  “Municipal Solid Waste (MSW)—more commonly known as trash or garbage—consists of everyday items we use and then throw away, such as product packaging, clothing, bottles, food scraps, newspapers, appliances, paint, and batteries.”

Presently, about 32.5 percent of the trash produced in the United States is recycled or composted, 12.5 percent is burned and 55 percent is buried in landfills. Here is an overview of the above waste disposal systems.


Recycling turns materials that would otherwise end up in a landfill into valuable items again. Recyclables are sent to a materials recovery facility to be sorted and prepared into supplies for manufacturing. Opponents of recycling argue that recycled goods are more expensive and that recycling takes away needed jobs. Defenders of recycling believe that with the population greatly on the rise that people are stretching natural resources to their limits.


To diminish the amount of waste in landfills, some operators have implemented a controlled burning process called combustion. Opponents of combustion claim that people will cease recycling if a burning process is being employed in their region.  They argue that the population will believe that combustion is just as environmentally safe as recycling.  Meanwhile, defenders of combustion waste disposal systems believe that burning waste at exceedingly high temperatures destroys chemical compounds and deadly bacteria. This, they declare, is preferable to the environmental conditions found at landfills.


The purpose of a landfill is to isolate waste in a dry place where it will not come in contact with ground water or air. One of the biggest controversies surrounding the use of landfills as an effective waste disposal system is making sure it doesn’t cause problems with the surrounding environment. This is why landfills utilize a bottom liner system, which is simply a puncture-resistant synthetic plastic to contain the waste. Despite all efforts, water inevitably does get into the landfill and it percolates through the trash taking contaminates along with it. This contaminated water is called leachate and it is acidic. The landfills are equipped with perforated pipes that run throughout the landfill, catch leachate and take it to a leachate collection pond where it is tested and treated.

Opponents of landfills believe that with the growing population, landfills can no longer safely meet the need for trash collection storage.  Older landfills open or closed do not have updated regulatory safety features required by law. Also, even with the best safeguards in place there is no 100% guarantee that these safeguards will remain effective over time. Defenders of landfills argue that more effective means to protect the environment are constantly evolving and it is only a matter of time before the landfill waste disposal system is perfected. And finally, landfills are important to local economies everywhere because they create many jobs.