Unless you live in La-la Land, garbage fairies don’t magically take your garbage away each week to somehow make it harmlessly disappear “out of sight-out of mind”. In your real world, your garbage is a big deal, especially considering that much of the stuff that goes in there could contaminate our air and water.

But don’t freak out. Thankfully, we have waste management experts who design and manage engineered landfills that protect the environment. Whew! Okay, knowing that, we should feel good that landfill professionals are using engineering and technology to protect the environment from all our waste, right? Not hardly. Even with professionals managing our waste, how can we ever “feel good” about all that waste going into our landfills each day… especially considering too much of it could and should be recycled.

So how do we become responsible stewards with our waste? First, we need to have pathways to reduce our waste going into landfills and also reduce the economic and environmental costs of managing landfills. It all begins at the top of the Waste Management Hierarchy with source reduction and reuse. And that’s really about “diverting waste” from landfills into other waste streams that make environmental sense… that we’ll decode in the videos and educational content below.

Let’s begin with some clear definitions. A “dump” is a place people dump garbage that can contaminate ground water and the air. Open-air dumps can generate a lot of methane gas and that’s a greenhouse gas that affects climate change and global warming. So clearly, dumps are bad news for the planet.

Professionally managed landfills on the other hand are highly engineered systems designed to protect the environment, both the groundwater and the air. This cross-section diagram shows the multiple layers of protection that are designed in a landfill. Watch the video to get a true sense of what goes into these engineered landfill systems.

Even though landfills are “designed” to protect the environment, they’re also monitored to ensure that the air and groundwater are being protected. Sentinel wells are drilled and tested to alert professionals about any contamination that’s been released or leaked from the landfill.

Cool! So landfills can handle anything we throw at them, right? WRONG! Lots of recyclables and all kinds of toxic stuff are banned from landfills. Watch the video to discover what they are and your role in keeping them from filling and contaminating our landfills. Plus, study the Waste Management Hierarchy and the “Learn More” section below to see what you can do with source reduction and reuse.

As a BONUS, we wanted to also link you below with some of the great educational content offered on PBS Wisconsin Education, Wisconsin Biographies. It’s the inspirational recycling story of Milly Zantow: Recycling Revolutionary. So enjoy and feel free to share Milly’s important story with your teacher and classroom.

Available Lessons

Elementary Lessons

Middle School Lessons

High School Lessons