The International Information Center for Geotechnical Engineers

Biodegradation in Municipal Solid Waste landfills




The objective of this study was to provide an overview of solid waste generation and the biological reactions involved in its decomposition. The emphasis was on anaerobic processes that reflect decomposition in landfills. Solid waste contains high concentrations of cellulose and hemicellulose that biodegrades under anaerobic conditions. The anaerobic biodegradation of solid waste requires the coordinated activity of several groups of microorganisms. 

Increasing attention is being given to leachate recirculation in landfill bioreactors as an effective way to enhance the microbial decomposition of organic fraction of municipal solid waste. Such systems are operationally influenced to promote synergy between the inherent microbial community and controlled to accelerate the sequential phase of waste stabilization, primarily reflected by characteristics changes in quantity and quality of leachate and gas production.

Landfills are an essential part of an integrated waste management strategy. At this time, the majority of solid waste generated in the United States is disposed in landfills, where it decomposes to CH4 and CO2. The resulting landfill gas represents a source of energy.  The development of a truly sustainable landfill will be important to the safe and effective management and control of waste in the future.




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