A very long time. The first landfill we know of was in Crete in 3,000 BCE. It consisted of large pits of trash covered with earth. In ancient Athens, the government established a municipal landfill and required that all waste be transported at least a mile outside the city’s limits. Ancient landfills are a source of information to archaeologists, who use them to learn about the details of everyday life.
Until the industrial revolution, most landfills were small because people had few possessions and reused as much as they could. It was when non-biodegradable mass produced became cheap that landfills became a problem.
We have been using trash dumps since the dawn of modern civilization, but the modern landfill – with liners, leachate collection, methane gas monitoring and other safeguards – came into being much more recently with legislation put into place (commonly known as Subtitle D) in 1991. Subsequently, many of the old “dumps” closed, as they could not afford to put the new safeguards in place, which has led to our current situation with far fewer dumping locations. Information on Subtitle D landfill regulation can be found on the EPA web site at http://www.epa.gov/osw/nonhaz/municipal/landfill.htm
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