U.S. EPA Contaminated Site Cleanup Information (CLU-IN)

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
U.S. EPA Technology Innovation and Field Services Division

Bioreactor Landfills


A bioreactor landfill operates to rapidly transform and degrade organic waste. The increase in waste degradation and stabilization is accomplished through the addition of liquid and air to enhance microbial processes. This bioreactor concept differs from the traditional "dry tomb" municipal landfill approach.

A bioreactor landfill is not just a single design and will correspond to the operational process invoked. There are three different general types of bioreactor landfill configurations:

  • Aerobic - Leachate is removed from the bottom layer, piped to liquids storage tanks, and recirculated into the landfill in a controlled manner. Air is injected into the waste mass, using vertical or horizontal wells, to promote aerobic activity and accelerate waste stabilization.
  • Anaerobic - Moisture is added to the waste mass in the form of recirculated leachate and other sources to obtain optimal moisture levels. Biodegradation occurs in the absence of oxygen (anaerobically) and produces landfill gas. Landfill gas, primarily methane, can be captured to minimize greenhouse gas emissions and for energy projects.
  • Hybrid (Aerobic-Anaerobic) - The hybrid bioreactor landfill accelerates waste degradation by employing a sequential aerobic-anaerobic treatment to rapidly degrade organics in the upper sections of the landfill and collect gas from lower sections. Operation as a hybrid results in an earlier onset of methanogenesis compared to aerobic landfills.

The Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) has defined a bioreactor landfill as "any permitted Subtitle D landfill or landfill cell where liquid or air is injected in a controlled fashion into the waste mass in order to accelerate or enhance biostabilization of the waste." The U.S. EPA is currently collecting information on the advantages and disadvantages of bioreactor landfills through case studies of existing landfills and additional data so that EPA can identify specific bioreactor standards or recommend operating parameters. More information is available at the EPA Sustainable Materials Management web page.

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Additional Information

Adobe PDF LogoPermitting of Landfill Bioreactor Operations: Ten Years after the RD&D Rule
U.S. EPA, National Risk Management Research Laboratory, Cincinnati, OH.
EPA 600-R-14-335, 60 pp, 2014

To formally promote innovative landfill technologies, including adoption of alternative cover systems and bioreactor technology, EPA published the Research, Development, and Demonstration (RD&D) Permit Rule on March 22, 2004. The Rule allows Subtitle D landfills a variance option for adding bulk free liquids if a demonstration can be made that such a variance will not increase risk to human health and the environment relative to standard permit conditions for the landfill. Prior to promulgation of the Rule, about 20 full-scale bioreactor projects were underway in North America, including one in Canada. By March 2014, 40 bioreactor projects were reported. Wisconsin features the largest number of projects at 13. Only 16 of 50 states had adopted the Rule in 2014, with a further seven reportedly in the process of Rule adoption.