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Newsletter and Technical Publications
<Municipal Solid Waste Management>

Sound Practices
Landfills

6.3 Classification

This discussion groups landfills into three general categories:

  1. Open dumps
  2. Controlled dumps
  3. Sanitary landfills

Obviously, these three types of landfills are points on a continuum, with facilities in developing countries most often falling somewhere between open dumps and controlled dumps. The table on the next page summarizes the main distinguishing characteristics of each of the three types.

Key Characteristics of MSW Landfill

Open dumps and the need to upgrade them
Open dumps have the lowest initial capital investment and operating cost of the three basic types of landfills in the table. (Such costs can include site acquisition and some activities carried out by municipal officials. Additionally, many open dumps start off as controlled dumps and degrade due to lack of management and other resources. In these cases, the resources expended on a controlled dump have resulted only in an open dump.)

Due to the low initial costs of open dumps, and lack of expertise and equipment, these sites are common in developing countries. They pose significant risks to human health and the environment, especially as MSW becomes more complex in industrializing countries. In addition, the cost of remediating these sites can easily exceed their total lifetime capital and operating costs. Contaminated groundwater may never be returned to usable condition and other environmental impacts may take many decades to ameliorate. Open dumps attract numerous birds that feed on the wastes, which can make them more serious disease vectors than flies or rodents.

The practice of open dumping is a dilemma for the poorer and smaller cities and towns of developing countries: certainly, this method is not sound practice. (Note, however, that for very poor countries where cities are near deserts (e.g., North Africa and the Middle East), unimproved open dumps may conceivably be considered sound if the savings from not upgrading dumps are used to improve collection service.) Managers are often told to close open dumps and construct controlled landfills. The reality of inadequate technical and managerial resources in many places, however, means that solid waste managers must attempt to ameliorate open dumping practices and gradually upgrade the sites.

There is now considerable experience in a number of countries with low-cost methods of such upgrading. Solid waste departments can rent the heavy equipment necessary to improve the infrastructure and grading of the dump or can subcontract this work to a private engineering firm. The initial step is the construction of perimeter drains to catch run-off and leachates; then, the site should be graded, to minimize leaching through the wastes. Machines can be rented about every two months to periodically adjust the grading, construct trenches for the deposit of waste (if advisable), and dig up cover material. The work of maintaining the grading and applying cover material can then be done manually by municipal workers. In some cases, a provincial ministry acquires the necessary earthmoving equipment and it is rotated among the dumps of the jurisdiction. In cases where equipment is obtained by the authority operating a dump, such equipment should be kept as simple as possible to make operation and maintenance feasible. It is important to demonstrate to municipal engineers that improvements can be made to open dumps with little capital outlay and few increased costs.

The discussion in the remainder of this section will focus on controlled dumps and sanitary landfills.

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