Landfill: The facts
In 2010, the UK was warned that it could run out of landfill capacity within eight years if current rates were continued.
While the proportion of waste recycled hasn’t changed at great deal in the last five years – it has, in fact, stalled at around 44% – we’re not quite three years away from all our landfill sites bursting at the seams. So, what’s happening?
The truth is that landfill sites around the United Kingdom are still nearing capacity, and Devon recently said that it was actively searching for new sites as all of its current facilities were reaching the end of their lives. It’s the same story across the country, with Dorset examining the possibility of depositing waste in disused Portland stone quarries, which ran into opposition from the 16,000 people living nearby.
And that’s where the problem lies. As with most refuse handling and management projects, the opinions of nearby residents are a powerful voice against expanding or opening new landfill sites. Unless you have a friendly, exhausted stone or gravel site that needs refilling in a relatively remote area, finding new landfill acreage is an enduring problem for waste management professionals and local authorities alike.
Certainly, tighter landfill allowances as laid down by central government are having an effect. The £150 per tonne penalty for exceeding these allowances as set down by ministry officials have proved a deterrent to authorities that have been slow to investigate alternatives, and the landfill tax for commercial users has certainly helped. With tighter council budgets the result of austerity programmes and a freeze on council tax income, the swing toward alternatives such as energy recovery is clear.
It’s tempting for councils and waste handlers to turn to a “scorched earth” policy and burn everything that can’t currently be recycled, and that’s become the subject of some debate within the industry. Is it fine to replace one unsustainable waste process with one which is equally unsustainable? While energy recovery takes the pressure off landfill sites, the short-term benefit of low-cost energy is offset by CO2 release and the ultimate destruction of materials.
It’s obvious that a third way is needed, but in the meantime, energy recovery is the preferred solution to landfill.
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