Landfill is an important part of waste management in Ireland. The volume of waste being produced by households and businesses has continued to increase. Legislation from the EU and the Irish Government has stated that landfill must be the last option for waste disposal. All other options, like recycling, minimisation, prevention and re-use, must first be considered before the landfill option.
A modern landfill is a carefully designed structure built into or on top of the ground in which waste is isolated from the surrounding environment (groundwater, air, soil). The modern landfill offers much more protection for the environment and for local people than traditional dumps did. Problems with odours, litter, vermin, etc., are greatly reduced by the careful management of the site. Most landfills are made up of the following elements:
Only small sections of the landfill, known as cells, are worked at a time. Waste is compacted into a thin layer and covered over with soil, or another suitable cover material, at the end of the day. This prevents much of the nuisances and hazards associated with rubbish dumps like litter, odours and vermin. Waste can be compacted by heavy compacting equipment to reduce its volume. Another method is to turn the waste into high-density bales using hydraulic equipment at high pressure. Pulverisation (the shredding or milling of waste to a thoroughly mixed material of small particle size) can also be used as a treatment before waste is sent to landfill. All of these pre-treatment methods greatly reduce the volume of waste being sent to landfill and cut down on waste transportation costs. They make landfill a more attractive option as they greatly reduce problems of odours, vermin control, fly-nuisance, windblown material and fire hazards.
Before a landfill site can be built, an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is done on the proposed site to determine, amongst other things:
While there is rarely much local support for proposed landfill sites, they are licensed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), so that, they will not cause environmental pollution if operated correctly and provided good practices are followed. In order to ensure these high standards, special training is needed to manage the sites. The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government in collaboration with FÁS have organised a training scheme for landfill workers, which covers all aspects of landfill management.
Landfill sites must be monitored on a regular basis to make sure they are being run efficiently and safely. The responsibility for this monitoring rests with the EPA and landfill operators themselves. This process begins with the application for a waste licence. All landfill operators must apply to the EPA for this licence and they are required to satisfy a number of criteria, including the kind of monitoring they will undertake, before a decision to grant a licence is made. If a landfill site operator breaks the terms of its licence by failing to establish proper monitoring procedures or failing to send its monitoring data to the EPA, the Agency can prosecute under the Waste Management Acts 1996 - 2008.
While the EPA carries out routine inspections on landfill sites and provides guidance for landfill operators on the best practices for maintaining their sites, the operators themselves are required to constantly monitor various aspects of their site to ensure they remain in compliance with their licence. Different sites will be required to monitor for different pollutants, depending on the location and potential environmental impact of their sites. Landfill gases, such as methane, carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide are produced by the breaking down of waste and can cause pollution and odour problems. Analysis for organic pollutants such as pesticides and chlorinated solvents in leachate samples must be done regularly. Groundwater must be sampled and tested for the presence of leachate chemicals. Monitoring is also carried out for dust, noise pollution, ordour and emissions to sewers, including leachate analysis.
As well as these technical monitoring practices, it is essential that the management of a landfill site does not neglect the basics. Proper compacting of waste, covering waste with a layer of soil at the end of the day, litter control, surface water control and general tidiness are all necessary parts of a landfill's management plan. Poor organisation of a landfill site can lead to problems with odours, flies, vermin and litter, which, in turn, will lead to complaints.
The EPA has set out recommendations for landfill sites in landfill manuals.
In an effort to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill sites, more care must be taken in diverting and recycling more of the waste that currently enters these sites. If the diversion and recycling targets set by the Government are to be achieved, it will be imperative to remove as much recyclable and biodegradable material as possible from the waste stream and to compact the remaining waste as effectively as possible. Pre-treatment of waste in this way is a requirement of the proposed EU Directive on the Landfill of Waste, and can be achieved by promoting the use of home composting, bring sites, recycling facilities and Material Recovery Facilities.
Waste from electrical and electronic equipment, white goods (e.g., washing machines, fridges) and hazardous waste (e.g., batteries, medicines, fluorescent tube lighting) can be left at the many civic amenity centres around the country for recycling and disposal. There are bring centres in all areas for the recycling of glass, cans and some plastics. For more details about recycling facilities in your area, you should contact your local authority.
Each landfill site has the authority to refuse to accept any type of waste prohibited by its waste licence. Many landfill sites are designed to deal with specific types of waste and some only accept inert waste, such as, soil, stones and contruction/demolition waste. In an effort to increase recycling and re-use of items, many landfill sites now have civic amenity centres purely for domestic waste. If you have a particular item like a bed or a washing machine that you want to send to landfill, you should contact your local landfill site to see if it will accept it. Alternatively, you can contact your local authority for further advice.
The majority of landfill sites in this country are run by local authorities. However, there are a number of private landfill sites, and this number is growing all the time, as more and more private companies get involved in waste management, recycling and disposal. All landfill sites must be licensed by the EPA and there is a detailed application process for a licence. The EPA will review the application form and can prohibit a landfill from accepting certain kinds of waste if it thinks the provisions set out in the application are not sufficient to prevent the risk of environmental pollution.
All new landfill sites must apply for planning permission from a local authority or, in certain cases, directly to An Bord Pleanála and an Environmental Impact Assessment is typically required as part of the planning process. This assessment will also be passed onto the EPA as part of the application process.
Landfill sites are the responsibility of the operator lonf after the waste has been deposited. The operator must carry out monitoring on the site, even if it is no longer in use. The operator must ensure that the deposited waste and its decomposition is not adversely affecting the groundwater, soil and surrounding environment. The operator also remains responsible for the maintenance of the site, e.g., upkeep of the gas and leachate collection system, and for its restoration and landscaping.
All landfills require a licence from the EPA. A waste licence is a single integrated licence, which deals with emissions to all environmental media (e.g., air, water and soil). The licence also covers the environmental management of the site. A waste licence will not be granted by the EPA unless it is satisfied that:
The information contained in any waste licence that has been granted by the EPA is available to the public. This includes the application documentation. Anyone can make an objection to a licence application or a decision by the EPA on granting a licence. After the EPA make the licence application available, you must make your objection within 28 days.
The Environmental Protection Agency Act (1992) also requires that the EPA prepare guidelines on the selection, management, operation and termination of use of landfill sites. These guidelines aim to improve and standardise the practices in landfill sites and bring them in line with European regulations.
The Waste Management Acts, by reference to national policy documents and EU legislation, set out ambitious targets for reducing the amount of waste being sent to landfill. All local authorities were required to produce a Waste Management Plan, detailing how they were going to achieve the targets set out in policy and legislation. These targets include:
Since the 1990s, the number of landfills for municipal waste has decreased to 29. Five of these facilities are privately operated, the remainder by local authorities. The newer of these sites are designed to maxmise energy recovery and the highest standards of environmental protection. The provision of facilities like material recovery facilities, composting plants, mechanical biological treatment facilities, civic amenity centres, bring centres and increased recycling capacity for construction/demolition waste are key features in the plan to divert recyclable, biodegradable and construction/demolition waste from landfill.
The introduction of a "polluter pays" principle in line with EU waste legislation has made both industry and householders more aware and more responsible for the waste they produce. An effective system of charging for waste disposal will also act as an incentive for people to think carefully about what they throw away.
The Waste Management Act (1996) provides for substantial penalties for environmental offences. The EPA is the body responsible for dealing with any violations of this Act by landfill operators that they have licensed. When the EPA discovers these violations, it will first write to the landfill operator, telling them what it needs to do to uphold the terms of its licence. All such recommendations must be implemented as soon as possible. If the EPA feels this method has failed, it can bring summary proceedings against landfill operators in the District Court for offences under the Waste Management Act.
A person guilty of the failing to comply with notices served by the EPA or failing to co-operate fully with inspectors by allowing them access to records and premises is guilty of offences under the Waste Management Act . On summary conviction, he or she is liable to a fine not exceeding €1,905 or a prison term not exceeding 12 months. If the court decides, both a fine and imprisonment can be imposed. On conviction on indictment for these offences, a person may be liable to a fine not exceeding €12,700 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years. Again, if the court decides, both imprisonment and a fine could be imposed. If the offence is continued after conviction, a person is guilty of an offence for every day the contravention continues. On conviction on indictment for this offence, he or she is liable to a fine of €127,000.
Other offences under the Waste Management Act relating to landfill sites are running a landfill site in a way that could cause environmental damage and failing to notify the local authority and EPA in the event of a spillage or accident that could cause environmental damage. On summary conviction for these offences, a person is liable to a fine not exceeding €1,905 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months. If it decides, the court can impose both a fine and a prison sentence. If the offence is continued after conviction, a person is guilty of an offence for every day the contravention continues. On summary conviction for this offence, he or she is liable to a fine of €254 for every day the offence continues.
On conviction of an offence under the Waste Management Act, the court can order the person convicted to pay the costs of the investigation, detection and prosecution of the offence, including costs and expenses incurred in the taking of samples, the carrying out of tests, examinations and analyses.
If there is serious concern that a landfill site could cause environmental pollution, it is possible to apply to the High Court for an injunction. The High Court can order that the necessary measures be carried out to prevent or limit pollution, within a specified period. It can also require the landfill operator to stop any particular act that is deemed to be dangerous to the environment. Finally, the High Court can order other changes or improvements be made by the landfill operator, if it is considered necessary by the court. Penalties and fines imposed by the High Court are much more severe than those imposed by the District Court and failure to abide by the decision of the High Court can lead to charges of contempt. The EPA rarely applies to the High Court when dealing with violations of waste licences as the District Court is a more speedy and efficient means of dealing with these issues.
Under the terms of the Waste Management Act, it is possible for anyone to take a landfill operator to court. However, this practice is costly and time consuming. The EPA deals with complaints from the public about landfill sites and will take whatever actions it considers necessary to investigate and remedy the situation.
Under the Waste Management (Landfill Levy) Regulations (2002), a landfill levy is in operation. This means that there is currently a Government levy of €20 per tonne of commercial waste disposed of in landfill. This levy is payable on top of whatever fee your local authority or the private landfill owner charge for use of their site. Money from this levy will go towards the Environmental Fund set up by the Government to provide finance for environmental projects.
While the levy is standard in all landfill sites, gate fees will vary from site to site. General commercial waste is charged by weight (tonne). For more information about prices, you should check with your local authority or private landfill site.
For information about landfill sites in your immediate area, you should apply to your local authority. It will be able to give you details about local authority-run landfill sites and any private landfill sites that may be in the same area. All information about the licensing and monitoring of landfill sites can be obtained from the EPA. If you have any complaints about landfill sites in your area, you should contact the EPA.
If you have a question relating to this topic you can contact the Citizens Information Phone Service on 0761 07 4000 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm) or you can visit your local Citizens Information Centre.