Scavengers pick through garbage collected at a landfill site in Thailand. Image: Humans are generally getting better at dealing with their mess. In the UK, for instance, 45 per cent of household waste is now recycled—yet that still means more than 12 million tonnes are buried in the ground every year. Burying that rubbish isn’t cheap, and neither is keeping it in the ground once there. Old landfill sites are covered with grass and turned into innocuous-looking hills filled with waste, and even they have to be monitored to make sure they aren’t contaminating the local environment. For instance, as material decomposes, greenhouse gases such as methane are given off. If there is not enough methane to make it economically viable to capture (and there usually isn’t) it often needs to be burned off to convert it to CO₂, a less potent greenhouse gas. There are also concerns that thousands of older sites, often built on flood plains or near the seashore, may be at risk from flooding or coastal erosion . So what should be done about these old landfill sites? One answer may be to dig them up again. Old landfills do have valuable waste, the most […]

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