Why Nothing Biodegrades in a Landfill

Green inforgraphic explaining why nothing biodegrades in a landfill.
Infographic by Marie Cullis.

“Landfills have become mausoleums of trash so airless that nothing degrades, not even organic material.” -Eve O. Schaub, Year of No Garbage: Recycling Lies, Plastic Problems, and One Woman’s Trashy Journey to Zero Waste

All items eventually break down, but that does not mean they biodegrade. Decompose means that something separates into its parts or into simpler compounds, even ones that are harmful.

Biodegradable means to decay naturally and in a way that is not harmful.

Nothing in a landfill biodegrades because landfills do not have the basic requirements for biodegradation to take place.

Instead, it decomposes and emits methane, a gas that causes global warming. As attorney and sustainability expert Jennie Romer explains:

“As landfill waste decomposes, it produces a strong greenhouse gas called methane. Greenhouse gases trap heat and make our planet too warm, which causes climate change. Often there are pipes in landfills that collect methane, but these can leak. Other times, instead of sitting in a landfill, garbage is burned in a process called incineration. This produces ashes and smoke, and some of that smoke has chemicals in it that can pollute the air.”1

Mixed compost in my own bin.
Mixed compost in my own bin.

Please don’t throw natural items in the trash. Instead, look to composting, which is the natural process of allowing organic matter to decay back into nutrient-rich soil. This is the best thing you can do with your food scraps, yard waste, and leaves. Read my article on Composting Made Easy.

“Food waste in landfills is packed in with nonorganic waste and lacks the proper space, temperature, and moisture to degrade. The waste will never break down. Instead it produces methane gas, a harmful greenhouse gas.” -Brigette Allen and Christine Wong, authors of Living Without Plastic: More Than 100 Easy Swaps for Home, Travel, Dining, Holidays, and Beyond


  1. Book, Can I Recycle This? A Kid’s Guide to Better Recycling and How to Reduce Single-Use Plastics, by Jennie Romer, Penguin, New York, 2023.