Leachate: The Ugly Truth About Food Waste In Landfills

Updated: Feb 17, 2021

Leachate. It's the kind of thing you rarely think about. The kind of thing you might not have even heard about until just now.

Well, unfortunately, we're going to have to burst your bubble a bit.

This article is going to go over exactly what leachate is, what it does to the surrounding environment, how it's related to food waste and why municipalities are struggling to control it.

What Is Leachate Anyways?

Leachate is the liquid which leaches from landfills, either through rain run-off, or the organic components of landfill heaps themselves creating leakage.

Landfill sites are supposed to have leachate collection systems, which are often lagoons or closed tanks filled with the grossest possible stink-water you could ever imagine, and an underground system of pipes to collect any liquid generated over the lifetime of the landfill.

However, these collection systems do not always do what they're supposed to. According to the US Geological Survey (USGS): "Landfills are often not the final repository for leachate which can be discharged to surface waters following onsite or offsite wastewater treatment."

You know that wonderful Jeff Goldblum quote, from Jurassic Park?

Well, this is especially true of human-made systems, such as landfills and leachate collection systems. Leaks happen: the direction of how groundwater naturally flows, as well as the permeability of the nearby soil structure may not always be accounted for, or properly mitigated by leachate collection systems.

Leachate spills and spreading is compounded by irregular weather patterns:

"Long drought years and occasional heavy wet spells lead to accelerated dispersion of leachate in the surrounding areas causing surface and subsurface contamination."

- Richard Espinoza

As weather patterns continue to become more and more unpredictable with the complex climate change matrix, these leaks may very well increase in both severity and regularity. Time alone will tell.

Research has shown that 0.1% - 0.4% of all groundwater is polluted by landfills and industrial reservoirs. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) provide statistics which prove that most landfills leak. (Scientific Reports, 2019)