The topic of when we are going to run out of space in our landfills is actually a matter of some debate. The pitched battle between environmentalists and those who would build more landfills, tends to be separated by the claims that we are quickly running out of space, and that we have enough space to last a good many years. Further, those who are not concerned about space in landfills often suggest that if we run out of space, we could always build new ones, although the law often does not permit it.
From the environmentalists, we get the argument that building new landfills can be challenging since there is potential to expose people who are living or working in close proximity to them to dangerous chemicals. Further, some chemicals, which people dispose of improperly, may leach into the ground and affect water supply. Contamination from landfills has occurred in the past and is likely to occur again, and therefore existing ones should be maintained, and the rate at which they are filled, reduced by using less plastic, recycling, and composting.
From those who support the building of new landfills, argument runs that there are plenty of open spaces in which they could be built if needed. It is argued we spend too much time recycling and too much money on the sorting required to recycle items. Some claim those we have will last for at another 100 years, but we can always build new ones if they don’t last. However, environmental laws often prohibit building new landfills and people don’t want to live near them, even though most “garbage” is relatively safe. We also hear from this side that new methods of compressing and decomposing trash free up space, and that some environmentalists exaggerate the issue.
Some specific landfills will reach maximum capacity in a few years. England has problems with a number of them reaching near capacity. A few in the US state of Georgia have approximately ten years left. Some attribute a number of years to specific landfills, like 10 years, 17 years or 20. However, there are no hard figures on when all such areas will reach maximum capacity, but instead, debate about their capacity and what we should do about it.
It does make good sense to recycle when necessary, since realistically, we will ultimately run out of space in many landfills, though the precise numbers as to when are debated. While environmental laws could be changed to build new ones, recycling might put off such changes for a long period of time. It is true that there are few people who would want to live near one, should we need to build more. As with many unwanted developments such as prisons or power plants, proposed landfills run the risk of running into the "not-in-my-back-yard," or NIMBY opposition. Opponents usually argue that housing in these areas would be likely to drop in value, and some residents would not be able to afford to move elsewhere.