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Landfill & Disposal

Background

Landfill provides a safe disposal option for wastes that can’t be recycled, composted or used to generate energy. Modern landfills are engineered to very high specifications ensuring that all waste deposited in a landfill will be safely contained and, that when it is restored, the landfill will blend naturally into the surrounding landscape. Restored landfills are often used for farming, as golf courses, for forestry or as public open space.

Landfill is still an important means of managing waste, although landfilling of waste has decreased (in England and Wales) by 45% 1 between 2000 and 2009. The Landfill Directive set targets to reduce the amount of biodegradable waste going to landfill and the Landfill Tax was introduced in 1996 in an attempt to facilitate this reduction. However, landfill will always be an important option for certain domestic, commercial and industrial wastes produced in the UK.

The Issues

Landfill Tax: The landfill tax escalator has helped transform the shape and direction of the waste industry. It encourages councils and companies to develop recycling infrastructure by making the landfill disposal route a more expensive option. This is, in turn, is helping the UK meet its goals under the Landfill Directive.  The ‘escalator’ has provided the predictability of annual increases and the medium term target rate of £80/tonne has given the waste management industry the platform needed to invest in a much wider range of treatment facilities that push waste up the hierarchy.

Renewable Energy from landfills: The waste management sector remains the single largest generator of renewable energy in the United Kingdom, producing one quarter of Britain’s renewable electricity, much of this from landfill gas. In 2008, ESA’s reporting Members generated more than 5.4 million megawatt hours of renewable energy from landfill gas and from energy from waste facilities.
 
Emissions: ESA Members recognise the importance of effective landfill gas and leachate management. Modern landfills not only capture over 80% of methane generated, but incorporate high engineering standards to protect surface and groundwater, and manage gas production to the highest levels. Emissions from landfills have fallen 59 per cent between 1990 and 2007.

The Environment Agency and the waste management sector has been working together to reduce emissions from landfills. In 2007/08 ad hoc improvements to gas management schemes resulted in a reduction in emissions of about 20,000 tonnes in the year. A programme of ‘audits’ and improvements was formally introduced in 2008/ 09 and resulted in a further 19,400 tonnes reduction in methane emission from the 15 highest emitting sites.

The Landfill Directive: The Directive’s objective is to prevent or reduce as far as possible the negative effects of landfilling on the environment as well as any resultant risk to human health. It achieves this through specifying biodegradable municipal waste diversion targets and by requiring uniform technical standards relating to location, management, engineering, closure and monitoring for landfills.

ESA Policy Recommendations

  1. The Government must maintain long term certainty regarding the level of landfill tax.

  2. Operators should be incentivised to continue to capture and generate energy from landfill gas. This is important as remaining landfill gas reserves tend to be at more marginal and difficult to exploit projects. The Government’s reforms of the energy market should look to provide appropriate support to maximise this gas resource.

  3. Any additional landfill bans must be supported by a strong evidence base and if applied, must be signalled well in advance and have sufficient lead-in time to allow for the provision of alternative treatment routes for banned materials.
1 http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/research/library/data/123472.aspx