Landfill is an important part of waste management in Ireland. However, all other waste disposal 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). It 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:
- Bottom liner system - this separates waste and leachate (liquid that gathers at the bottom of the waste mass) from the ground and groundwater
- Cells (old and new) - where the waste is stored within the landfill
- Storm water drainage system - this collects rain water that falls on the landfill
- Leachate collection system - this collects water that has percolated through the landfill itself and contains contaminating substances. The leachate should be treated and disposed of in a safe way.
- Gas collection system - pipes collect the methane, carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide gases that are formed during the biological breakdown of waste. Where possible, these gases are used for the production of electricity.
- Covering or cap - this seals off the top of the landfill with a gas drainage layer, an impermeable mineral layer, a drainage layer of at least 0.5 metre and at least one metre of top soil.
Before a landfill site can be built, an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is done on the proposed site.
Monitoring of landfill sites
Landfill sites are licensed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and 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. This process begins with the application for a waste licence. 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, the operators themselves are required to constantly monitor various aspects of their site to ensure they remain in compliance with their licence.
As well as these technical monitoring practices, the management of a landfill site must include proper compacting of waste, covering waste with a layer of soil, litter control, surface water control and general tidiness.
The EPA has set out recommendations in landfill manuals.
Each landfill site has the authority to refuse to accept any type of waste prohibited by its waste licence. If you have a query about an item you want to send to landfill, contact your local landfill site to see if it will accept it. You can contact your local authority for further advice.
All landfill sites must be licensed by the EPA and there is a detailed application process for a licence. The EPA 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. 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.
Environmental Protection Agency
All landfills require a licence from the EPA. The information contained in any waste licence 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 EPA must also 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 Act (1996) provides for substantial penalties for environmental offences. The EPA is responsible for dealing with any violations of this Act by landfill operators that it has 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 this does not succeed, it can bring summary proceedings against landfill operators in the District Court for offences under the Waste Management Act. It can also bring proceedings in the High Court.
Under 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.
Office of Environmental Enforcement
The Office of
Environmental Enforcement (OEE), which was established under the
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), also has a mandate to deliver enhanced
environmental compliance through enforcement of EPA licences issued to waste,
industrial and other activities. It exercises a supervisory role in respect of
the environmental protection activities of local authorities. In this regard,
the OEE acts as a resource to members of the public who have exhausted all
other avenues of complaint.
Under the Waste Management (Landfill Levy) Regulations (2013), a Government levy of €75 is payable per tonne of commercial waste disposed 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 goes towards the Environmental Fund set up to provide finance for environmental projects.
While the levy is standard in all landfill sites, gate fees vary from site to site. General commercial waste is charged by weight. For more information about prices, you check with your local authority or private landfill site.
How to apply
For details about landfill sites in your area, you should apply to your local authority. For information about the licensing and monitoring of landfill sites or if you have any complaints about landfill sites in your area, you should contact the EPA.