BAN Waste Select Committee evidence

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Phase 1 Day 7 2001-10-22 Mr David Baker (Group Environment Manager, SITA)

written evidence submitted in advance

SUMMARY OF EVIDENCE - LANDFILL IN THE UK

The strategy for Waste Management within the United Kingdom has been the focus of intense debate over recent years with concerns regarding environmental impact of certain activities such as landfilling and incineration having significant influence on the drafting of controlling legislation.

Landfilling activity over the past fifteen years has been the subject of ever increasing requirements for environmental control, resulting in modern day facilities being engineered to standards ensuring no unacceptable risk to the environment.

The changes were in part initiated by the Environmental Protection Act (1990) and by a Government Green Paper - Our Common Inheritance published in 1990, which identified targets for the reduction in the amounts of domestic waste directed to landfill for disposal. The Environment Protection Act (1990) enabled regulation to be introduced which allowed for increasing control of the risks posed by waste management activities.

This early legislation and guidance has been replaced by those described in the EC Landfill Directive 1999/31/EC, which proposes further increases in the level of environmental protection required at such facilities.

The application process for a modern day landfill site requires a comprehensive assessment of the hydrogeological setting of the site along with detailed engineering proposals to mitigate any risks identified.

All sites are required to be monitored continually throughout their operational life, and after completion until it can be demonstrated that the site presents no further potential risk to the environment. At this stage a Certificate of Completion will be issued by the Environment Agency.

The UK currently landfills around 27M tonnes of municipal waste (DETR statistics - 1996) of which approximately 60% is biodegradable. Current estimates suggest that waste levels are growing at 3% per year.

Therefore it is considered that the future of landfilling wastes is secure; landfilling will continue to be required to dispose of final residue from different processing activities and to accommodate excess waste arisings which cannot be directed to treatment facilities.

The Directive requires that:-

However, future landfilling will concentrate on fewer, larger sites which are served by strategically located recycling and transfer stations.

The principle concerns associated with landfills are:-

Odour Issues.

Leads to nuisance and concerns over health Impacts. Odour can be controlled by modern effective management practices including:-

Providing best practice is carried out at site, odour should not present a problem.

Health Impacts.

Much research is currently underway to assess the impact of sites on the health of local population. To date there is no evidence to substantiate any such impact. The recently published SASHU report was considered by the authors peers to be flawed insomuch as the full factors influencing the areas of study had not been considered.

Landfill Gas.

Properly engineered sites should not present any problem and allow for the collection of the majority of gas produced during the degradation of the waste.

Such gas can be and is used beneficially - in most instances it is used as a fuel to produce electricity which is then used by the National Grid System. SITA has a programme of works currently underway that will result in some 70 megawatts of power being produced every hour from its landfill sites. The exhaust gases from such activities comply with stringent emission standards adopted throughout Europe.

Impact on Water Resources.

Detailed and complex mathematical modelling enables the protection measures for each site to be designed specifically allowing assurances that water quality will not be harmed in any way.

Continual monitoring of each water body throughout the life of the site provides constant reviews of the effectiveness of such measures.

Conclusions

Landfilling of wastes in modern day well engineered landfill sites must be considered as one part of an overall environmentally acceptable waste management strategy to deal with the ever-increasing volume of waste society generates.