World’s Largest Garbage Dumps

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Let's check out the world's largest garbage dumps!

The world produces over 2.3 billion tons of municipal waste yearly, enough to fill 822,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools! And with just 16% of it recycled, it all has to go somewhere.

From mega mountains and waves of trash to garbage islands that are twice the size of Texas, let’s take a look at 10 of the largest garbage dumps and landfills in human history.

10. Deonar Landfill, India

Annually, India generates more than 68 million tons of waste. That’s roughly the same weight as 48 million cars! The city of Mumbai alone produces 2.7 million tons of garbage per year! That means the city generates a whopping 7,400 tons of trash every 24 hours.

Most of this waste goes to the Deonar landfill, stretching across 326 acres of an eastern suburb of Mumbai. The oldest dump in India, the landfill was set up in 1927.

Deonar Landfill, India
The Deonar Landfill, India

Its daily capacity of processing limit is 2,000 tons. But this upper limit is largely ignored as a massive 5,500 tons of trash are regularly dumped at the site every day. As a result of this chronic overburden, piles of garbage in its vicinity have been stacked up to 114 feet high.

But this trash mountain is still growing! Back in 2012, The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai had to seek permission from the Airport Authority of India to increase the height of the dump to 164 feet. That’s about the same height as an 18-story building!

Deonar Landfill height

If it grows much higher, soon planes are going to have to start flying around this garbage mountain! Furthermore, as it decomposes, trash releases methane, a highly flammable and foul-smelling gas.

In 2016, the methane gas leaking off the Deonar open-air landfill ignited. It caused a fire so large that NASA’s satellites could see its smoke trail from space! But it did little to actually reduce the amount of rubbish at the site.

Mumbai Deonar Landfill fire

Today, the site still holds some 16 million tons of trash! And as this garbage mound is only continuing to grow, it could eventually dominate the Mumbai skyline! That would make a really rubbish postcard.

9. Apex Regional Landfill, U.S.

Every 15 ½ hours, Americans throw out enough plastic to fill the largest NFL stadium in the country: the 80,000-seat capacity AT&T stadium. So, it isn’t any surprise that the U.S is home to three of the largest dumps in the world, one of which is Apex Regional.

From the right angle, it almost looks like a sea of trash. But this is the world’s largest landfill site by area, as it occupies 2,200 acres - the equivalent of 1,250 soccer pitches!

Apex Regional Landfill in USA

Located in Nevada, Apex Regional acts as the clean-up station to America’s never-ending party town, Las Vegas, which produces more than 5 billion pounds of waste every year! Most of this gets dumped at Apex landfill, which is delivered at an average of 300 tons per hour.

In its heyday it received 15,000 tons of municipal solid waste daily, though these days 9,000 tons is more typical. And it’s this daily total that makes it the largest active landfill in the U.S by capacity alone, boasting a staggering 50 million tons of trash.

But this garbage heap also earns its keep! The nearby Apex Landfill Renewable Energy Generation Facility digs a series of wells into the landfill to extract the methane gas it produces. This flammable gas is used in turbine generators that produce 11 megawatts of electricity - enough to power more than 10,000 homes!

 Apex Landfill Renewable Energy

Estimated to have a projected lifespan for another 250 years, Apex will be there to clean up the mess for Las Vegas long into the future. What’s thrown out in Vegas, stays in Vegas!

8. Malagrotta, Italy

Boasting a whopping 60 million tons of trash, the title of Europe’s biggest landfill rightfully belongs to Malagrotta in Rome, Italy. Originally, it was an illegal dump site, but the landfill was officially recognized in 1984.

After that, 4,500 to 5,000 tons of waste were dumped there daily, and the landfill sprawled to a size of 618 acres!

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Malagrotta also holds the title for Europe’s filthiest landfill, because alongside the 1.3 million tons of solid waste it received each year, it also collected 140 tons of untreated sludge from local sewage plants.

It was this untreated sewage that started to cause terrible environmental damage to the Galeria Valley, where the landfill is located. It polluted underground aquifers, and toxic chemicals such as arsenic, lead and ammonia leached into the soil.

Underground aquifers pollution Malagrotta

The situation got so bad that in 2013, the authority closed the landfill due to a European Union lawsuit over the lack of waste treatment. That means the landfill was so filthy it literally became illegal. Mamma Mia!

With Malagrotta shut down, a serious trash problem plagued the nearby city of Rome. Every year, Rome produces 1.7 million tons of trash, and 1.2 million tons gets exported to other provinces, only 40% of which gets recycled. But the other half a million tons remain in the streets, which sometimes go uncollected for weeks.

This Italian trash problem has become so bad, the Mafia has gotten involved! It may sound like a joke, but since the 1990s, organized crime groups have taken over lucrative waste-management contracts, dumping trash in unauthorized fields or illegal landfills.

Industrial waste has often been illegally stored or burned, releasing toxins that contaminate the environment.

Mafia involvement Italy trash problem

And the mafia isn’t the only gang problem Italy’s trash has created! The uncollected rubbish has attracted wild boars into the city of Rome foraging for food. Not settling for just scraps, these boars have taken to roaming the streets and cornering people for their groceries:

Watch on YouTube

7. Bordo Poniente, Mexico

Over in Latin America, there’s an even bigger, 70-million-ton trash giant scarring the landscape. Located outside of Mexico City, Bordo Poniente is one of the world’s largest open-air landfills, stretching more than 927 acres over the region. That’s the same area as 700 football fields!

Bordo Poniente in Mexico

But it didn’t always look this way. Bordo Poniente began life as a dry lakebed which was used to handle debris from the 1985 Mexico City earthquake. Soon it became an active landfill, with hundreds of trucks dumping 12,000 tons of trash there daily.

In some places, the rubbish lies more than 56 feet deep. That’s so deep, you could theoretically bury 10 average sized men stacked head to toe in it! Not sure there’d be many volunteers to test that out, however!

At its peak, the immense amount of decaying garbage was estimated to produce over 2 million tons of methane gas every year. While this was initially seen as a potential power source, methane is also a greenhouse gas responsible for global warming. This meant it was actually the major source of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Bordo Poniente greenhouse emission

In 2011, Bordo Poniente was closed, with the Mexican government building plants at its site to convert the organic waste into gas, charcoal, and pellets as a source of green energy. Somewhere in Mexico City, there’s someone charging their phone with the power of garbage!

6. Laogang Landfill, China

China has a population of 1.4 billion people who generate some 215 million tons of garbage every year. As a result, this country hosts one of the world’s biggest waste management sites: the Laogang landfill.

It’s located on the outskirts of Shanghai, covering an area of 830 acres, and holding more than 75 million tons of garbage. This is almost 100 acres smaller than the previously mentioned Bordo Poniente, but the rubbish here is piled more than 65 feet high, making it one of the biggest landfills in all of Asia.

Laogang Landfill height

Every day, around 10,000 tons of waste is dumped at the site. But this is only half of the 26,000 tons generated in Shanghai alone, the rest of which has to be exported to other landfills across the country.

Like most large landfills, the methane gas produced by all this trash is collected by a nearby power plant, although this one is able to generate enough energy to power 100,000 homes!

But China doesn’t just process its own waste; it also used to buy trash from other countries. Until January 2018, China imported most of the world’s used plastic and paper waste. So, what most of us thought was being sent off for recycling at our local waste management centers was actually being shipped off to China!

China imported plastic and paper waste

That’s because China lacks its own softwood lumber industry, so wastepaper was sorted from trash and recycled to fulfill its paper needs. Alongside paper, China recycled scrap iron and utilized waste plastic to make sandals, phones, bottles, hoses, and more.

In this regard, China was the world’s recycling can, receiving a gargantuan 70% of the entire world’s plastic waste. The United States alone was sending over 700,000 tons of plastic waste to China every year!

China world’s recycling can

However, in 2017 China began Operation National Sword and declared a series of strict bans on the import of other countries’ waste. Overnight, the entire recycling industry was brought to a crippling halt. Western countries, such as the U.S, Canada, and the U.K, didn’t possess the infrastructure to sort their recyclable materials from trash.

Instead, the hole China left was filled by poorer countries such as Bangladesh, Laos, Ethiopia, and Senegal. These countries offer cheap labor, but with minimal environmental regulation. Definitely something to think about before you buy that next recyclable plastic bottle!

5. Puente Hills, U.S.

Los Angeles, home to the glitz and glam of Hollywood. But it turns out the glamor of this city is hiding a lot of garbage. During its thirty years of service, LA’s Puente Hills landfill had an army of 1,500 trucks deliver 12,000 tons of municipal solid waste daily from the homes of LA County.

However, when it was shut down in 2013, the amount of trash at this site weighed in at an unbelievable 127 million tons, most of which had been piled over 500 feet high. That meant this garbage pile was over ten times the height of the Hollywood sign!

Aerial view of Puente Hills landfill

Once it was decommissioned, engineers crushed the rubbish down and then covered it with 5 ft of topsoil to seal in the refuse. Here, all that trash will remain decomposing until that site is deemed inactive.

But if the waste just needs to decompose, why bother covering it? Well, in landfills that don’t cover their waste, air pockets can form. The oxygen trapped under the garbage increases the biological activity of the bacteria decomposing the trash.

This aerobic decomposition generates intense heat, while other areas of compacted garbage undergo anaerobic decomposition and produce highly flammable methane gas. The intense heat can set the methane alight and cause landfills to spontaneously combust!

garbage producing methane gas

However, landfill gases are still dangerous even after the site is deemed inactive. As in the case of Port Washington landfill, where – back in 1995 - a snack bar that was being built on the closed landfill site exploded after the water heater ignited the gases!

Port Washington landfill snack bar explosion

Never light a match near these either! Otherwise, you may end up like the North Carolina soccer mom, who when retrieving her kid’s ball from a hole in Renaissance Park - a former landfill site - lit a lighter to see in the shadows and was blown back by a huge fireball!

soccer mom blown in Renaissance Park

Luckily, she survived, though it’s pretty clear landfills – even inactive ones – can be a serious fire hazard! So don’t ever risk having a candlelit picnic on a reclaimed landfill park, unless you like burned sandwiches!

4. Fresh Kills Dumpsite, New York

Despite the name, Fresh Kills Dumpsite in New York isn’t some murderer’s mansion or a touring death metal band. ‘Kill’ is actually a Dutch word for streams, so the name translates to ‘Fresh Streams’ – a pretty ironic name for the site of a stinking pile of garbage.

Fresh Kills Dumpsite

Collected in what was once mostly wetlands, this Staten Island landfill used to receive 10 million tons of waste annually, and at its peak it contained a mammoth 150 million tons of New York’s finest garbage!

It consisted of four mounds which ranged in height from 90 to 225 feet. If Fresh Kills had stayed open, it’s estimated it would have eventually reached a height of 500 feet, becoming the highest point on the east coast of the U.S!

Fresh Kills dumpsite estimated height

Although this massive elevation wasn’t just made up of trash. The debris and wreckage from the 9/11 disaster were also buried here, with a memorial erected to honor those who lost their lives to that fateful event.

But even then, Staten Island wasn’t exactly thrilled to be the dumping ground for all of New York. The social, environmental and health impacts on Staten Islanders living near the site greatly reduced their standard of living.

For that reason, in 2001, Fresh Kills closed and has since been converted into a nature park which is now one of the most ecologically important habitats in the entire region.

view of Fresh Kills nature park

3. Sudokwon, South Korea

South Korea is a country that has radically transformed over the last 50 years, evolving from a largely agricultural country to a booming tech giant. And with this urban population explosion, there has also been a boom in the tons of waste generated.

Sudokwon landfill is the dumpster for the capital city Seoul’s waste. Stretching across a huge 4,292 acres, it receives between 18,000 to 20,000 tons of waste from Seoul every single day. It manages all this waste through an eco-friendly design, where the ground has been prepared to ensure no harmful chemicals can leak into the soil itself and contaminate it.

Sudokwon in South Korea

Pipes have been installed to siphon any natural gas accumulated off into nearby powerplants to be used as green energy. Not only that, but at the end of the waste collecting day, the waste is sterilized and covered with around 8 inches of soil, a process that’s repeated with every 15 ft of waste accumulated to make sure it decomposes well.

Sudokwon waste dicomposition

But Sudokwon isn’t just a dumpsite! Currently, that previously mentioned siphoned gas feeds into a landfill gas power station that provides 50 megawatts of electricity to the country. That’s enough to power at least 50,000 homes!

But the Korean government has gone one step further and transformed parts of Sudokwon into Dream Park, an ecological space and leisure park. The site’s management has set goals to plant a whopping 10 million trees on the decommissioned site, alongside a wildflower garden.

They’ve even built a research center dedicated to improving eco-friendly waste management! And it donates air purification plants grown from wastewater on site to local schools. It’s a dump dedicated to the future!

Watch on YouTube

2. Delhi Landfills, India

Did you know Mount Everest is in the middle of the city of Delhi, India? Ok, not the actual Mount Everest, but there is a mountain of trash in Delhi that’s so high it’s been nicknamed Everest by the locals!

Standing at 213 ft tall, the Ghazipur landfill is the product of Delhi’s daily 10,000 tons of trash. Although it isn’t just dumped here. It’s spread between not one, but two other landfills that loom over the city: Bhalswa and Okhla. Together, the three have a combined land area of 331 acres and a total mass reaching an unbelievable 300 million tons.

Delhi Landfills, India

Technically, every last one of them is classed as full. But despite this, trash is still being dumped here, taking up more and more of the skyline while creating something of a trashy mountain range across the city. These heaps of trash range from 180 to 213 feet tall!

The Ghazipur landfill is the biggest, with the peak of its mound reaching an unreal 20 stories high. Every day, 700 trucks dump 3000 tons of garbage at this landfill, with its height growing by more than 30 ft every year. At this rate, soon it’ll be taller than the Taj Mahal!

Ghazipur Landfill Delhi

And this garbage mountain is deadly. Back in 2017, 55 tons of garbage slid down its banks in a catastrophic landslide that swept away cars and people. But it gets worse. Because they’re open-air mounds of decaying garbage, these trash sites regularly catch fire and release toxic fumes, creating hazardous environments for the locals.

To combat the waste issue, the Indian government recently made efforts to reduce the size of these towering trash mountains, and the Okhla landfill was reduced in size from 180 to 124 feet. But “Trash Everest” - the Ghazipur landfill – only continues to get bigger. And one day, if Delhi keeps going the way it is, it could outgrow the real Everest!

Ghazipur Landfill estimated height

1. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Did you know that around 9 million tons of trash enter the ocean each year? After reading that, it might not surprise you to learn that this has resulted in giant islands of trash forming in the oceans!

The Great Pacific Garbage patch is a swirling vortex of trash that stretches some 618,000 square miles across. That’s three times the size of France! And it contains 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic. Doing some math, that’s roughly 250 pieces of plastic debris for every human in the world!

Great Pacific Garbage Patch Map

Also known as the Pacific Trash Vortex, this mega garbage patch is actually comprised of two islands of trash. The Western Garbage Patch, located near Japan, and the Eastern Garbage Patch, located between the U.S states of Hawaii and California.

However, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch isn’t the only marine trash vortex; it’s just the biggest! The Atlantic and Indian Oceans also have garbage patches, culminating in five trash islands in total.

These trash islands form due to gyres, which are giant systems of circulating ocean currents. Gyres act like an oceanic conveyer belt, circulating water, minerals, and heat around the globe.

Gyres oceanic conveyer belt

Plastic pollution in the ocean mainly comes from household and commercial waste, as it is blown from landfill sites, entering river and sewer systems that flow out to sea. In other cases, landfill sites border on the edges of the ocean and rubbish landslides crash into the water. The plastic waste is then drawn out by the tide into deep water.

Once plastic debris enters a gyre, it’s moved along on the current and into the center of the gyre, a slow-moving whirlpool where rubbish is trapped. Here it gradually amasses into giant garbage islands.

gyre forming giant garbage islands

The floating plastic degrades under the sun into tinier and tinier pieces; a process known as photodegradation. But as plastic degrades it leaches out toxic chemicals and absorbs pollutants. These toxic plastic fibers are then eaten by fish and other Sealife, wreaking havoc on the ecosystem. Entered into the food chain, they are later consumed by humans.

Plastic pollution doesn’t just gather in the deep ocean though. It can also come crashing back into land in trash tidal waves. That’s exactly what happened back in 2018 in the Dominican Republic, where the usually clear, turquoise waters of Santo Domingo were turned into a sea of trash!

Over the following weeks, it required more than 500 workers to collect over 65 tons of waste from the water.

Watch on YouTube

But it’s not just water at sea that can be catastrophically affected by pollution, as the rotten river of Indonesia proves. The Citarum River in West Java is considered the most toxic river in the world. At parts, the water is completely hidden from view, obscured by tons of trash floating on the river’s surface.

Citarum River pollution

The water is toxic to drink, with heavy metal concentrations of lead, aluminum, and iron more than 1000 times above the U.S Environmental Protection Agency’s safety standard. This has resulted in nearly 60% of the river’s fish species disappearing completely.

The cause of the river’s foul pollution is the more than 2,000 companies located in the area that discharge 20,000 tons of solid waste and 340,000 tons of chemical wastewater into the river daily.

After much international pressure, the Indonesian government recently announced a seven-year cleaning program for the Citarum River, with the goal of making its water drinkable by 2025. Cheers to that!

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