Facts about landfill

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Landfill remains the primary method of dealing with waste in the United Kingdom. Although many businesses, councils and households have got the message about recycling, around half of all refuse is still dumped into a hole in the ground and covered over.

In 2007, over half of our waste went into landfill, but this figure has declined steadily in the subsequent years, but still remains relatively high.

Landfill facts

The good news, however, is that figures for landfill of municipal waste has declined form and incredible 79% at the turn of the century to slightly less than half. Much of the decline can be lain at the door of UK and European directives that urged an increase in recycling and other means of disposal. The Landfill Directive set targets to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill, the Landfill Tax of 1996 encouraged commercial operators to take steps in the right direction.

However, landfill remains an important part of disposal regimes for materials that cannot be recycled or disposed of by any other means. Landfill sites are constructed and operated to strict standards in order to reduce environmental effects, and most types of waste may be disposed of via landfill. Strict landfill directives mean that the amount of waste – and particularly hazardous waste –  is being reduced, while operators are encouraged to recover what value they can from waste.

How does a landfill site work?

The waste is checked to make sure it is complaint with the operating permit.

Waste is then tipped onto the site, compacted and covered. This is to mitigate any smells and pests.

The waste is then decomposed. The decomposition process will result in gasses, notably methane, which has to be vented to safety. It is the evolving of gasses that makes former landfill sites generally unsuitable for further development for some time. One tonne of waste will produce at least 200 cubic metres of gas.

When the site reaches its capacity, it will be covered over with clay and other soils in a “cap”, which will eventually allow the land to be re-used for agriculture or other purposes.

Approximately 40% of Britain’s methane emissions come from landfill sites. However, careful management mean that increasing amounts of the UK’s electricy supply comes from gasses recovered from landfill.

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