What happens when you close your landfill?

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Everyone in the waste management industry knows that landfill capacity in the UK is running out fast. Without a strategy for opening new sites, mixed with greater efforts to prevent waste ending up in landfill in the first place, the industry could be faced with a crisis within just a few years.

Landfill sites reaching capacity is an issue that every waste management company and every local authority has to face at some time or another. While the need for new sites is still urgent, how does the industry deal with sites that are due to be shut down?

The challenge that both authorities and companies face is returning a multi-acre site to an acceptable state while showing respect to the potentially dangerous material beneath the soil.

Many landfill sites generate gasses such as methane which – apart from being a greenhouse gas – need to be collected and disposed of safely, usually through burning. There are also issues of subsidence. Sites which are filled to a rounded “crown” will eventually settle downward as refuse rots or collapses. That – of course – means that former landfill sites are not usually acceptable for development, a fact that some local authorities are paying the price for after ill-advised building programmes in the 1970s.

The accepted process is to return the site to nature, and there are grants and tax breaks available to enable the waste industry to do just that.

One such scheme is the Landfill Communities Fund (LCF), which offers tax credits which allow operators of landfill sites to contribute money to organisations enrolled with the scheme’s regulator ENTRUST to promote sustainable working in the waste management industry. These Environmental Bodies carry out projects to reduce pollution, reclaim land, and also to create parks and natural habitats.

The LCF allows waste management companies work together with groups to make life better for communities living near to former and current landfill sites. The scheme means that Landfill Operators can claim a credit of 5.7% against their landfill tax liability, and this forms 90% of their contribution to the Environmental Bodies. The extra 10% is made up by donation or through a third party.

The importance of returning former landfill sites to usable land, as well as improving the conditions around current sites cannot be emphasised enough. Working with communities improves the image of the industry, and leaves the country just that little bit greener.

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