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Landfill engineers are specialized engineers who plan, design, and construct landfill sites. In addition to designing site infrastructure, they may be involved in day-to-day site operations, including managing and utilizing landfill gases and leachates and dealing with public complaints. They may also be involved in projects to upgrade and expand existing sites or closing sites that are full. Landfill engineers interact with the many stakeholders involved in landfill projects, including regulators, the public, businesses, neighbours, and staff.
At a glanceImagine you are crouching over a smelly pit of garbage, with seagulls circling the trash and bulldozers moving piles behind you. You are a landfill engineer and you are here talking to the city's sanitation department about a new project to deal with the problem of growing garbage production and too little space to put it. The city isn't interested in building another dump, which is just an open hole, but instead has asked you to design a landfill. It will be your job to design a landfill facility at this location that can be isolated from the surrounding air, soil, and groundwater, thereby protecting the environment while holding the city's trash for decades to come. As a landfill engineer, you must factor a number of considerations into your design. You have already been involved in the project for more than a year, working with hydrogeologists, city planners, biologists, and other scientists and engineers, conducting an environmental assessment of the proposed site. Once the necessary studies have been completed and proper approvals granted, you and your team decide what kind of liner system to use to keep waste from coming into contact with the soil and to keep leachate, liquids that have come in contact with the waste, from seeping into the groundwater. In this case, you will use a double liner system: one liner layer will be compacted clay and the other will be a plastic-like geosynthetic liner. Above the liners you will build a leachate collection system that will minimize the leachate levels within the waste by draining or pumping it out of the site for treatment. Next, you will design a storm water drainage system to keep rain and other moisture out of the landfill to reduce the amount of leachate generated. The storm water drainage system will consist of a system of ditches that will collect and drain water away from the site. You will also have to consider whether to collect landfill gases produced by the breakdown of garbage. The landfill will produce carbon dioxide and methane, both of which are greenhouse gases. On top of that, methane is explosive, so safeguards must be put in place to minimize the potential for explosions or landfill fires. You might build a flare to burn off the methane or collect it for use in generating power for the city. Finally, you must also consider public health concerns and operational constraints in your design, including noise, dust, odour, litter, traffic, and visual impacts. It's a complicated process, but your design will produce a safe and effective way of storing the city's waste.
Job dutiesDuties vary significantly from job to job, but the following list includes typical job duties one might encounter as a landfill engineer:
- Assess geological and hydrogeological settings for potential facilities.
- Evaluate construction materials and design choices for projects, including specifications for protection, containment, collection, and removal systems.
- Prepare cost estimates for projects.
- Conduct risk assessments for different sites and designs.
- Prepare reports and make presentations to stakeholders.
- Prepare requests for proposals, evaluate proposals, and award contracts.
- Supervise and interact with on-site staff and provide instructions.
- Communicate with clients and liaise with contractors, landfill neighbours, and the public.
- Research appropriate legislation and guidelines governing landfill sites, construction, operation, maintenance, monitoring, closure, and rehabilitation
Work environmentIn the office:
- Doing paperwork, analyzing data, and preparing reports
- Drafting plans and designs
- Communicating on the phone and in meetings with clients, stakeholders, landfill operators, and government departments, and presenting assessment findings and designs to clients
- Making presentations to the public and review agencies
- Researching new technology and advancements in landfill construction, and consulting with other engineers and professionals
- Touring and inspecting sites during construction and operation, collecting samples, and evaluating soil and water quality data and landfill gases
- Communicating with operators and technicians
- Ensuring compliance with appropriate regulations
- Evaluating the efficiency of monitoring programs
Where to workThere are a number of places landfill engineers can find employment. They include:
- Engineering and environmental consulting firms
- Federal, provincial/territorial, and municipal government departments
- Colleges, universities, and research institutes
- Waste management companies
Education & requirementsIf you are a high school student considering a career as a landfill engineer, you should have strong marks or an interest in:
- Civil Engineering
- Environmental Engineering
- Geological Engineering