Landfill is an important part of waste management in Ireland. However, before you send anything to landfill you should consider all other waste disposal options, such as recycling, minimisation, prevention and re-use.
A modern landfill is designed to protect the environment by keeping the waste material separate from the surrounding soil, groundwater and air. It offers much more protection for the environment and for local people than traditional ‘dumps’. The site is managed carefully to control problems such as smell, litter or vermin. Rules on licensing and monitoring ensure the safety and efficiency of landfill sites.
What makes up a landfill site?
These are the basic parts of a landfill:
- Bottom liner system – this lining stops the solid waste and liquid waste (known as leachate) from coming into contact with the surrounding soil and groundwater
- Cells – this is where the compressed waste is stored
- Storm water drainage system – this channels rainwater away from the landfill site
- Leachate collection system – this filters and collects contaminated water away from the landfill (and should be treated and disposed of in a safe way)
- Gas collection system – this collects the landfill gases (methane, carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide) which form inside the landfill when bacteria break down the waste
- 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.
The licensing process for landfill sites
A landfill site operator must apply for:
- A waste licence from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
- Planning permission from the local authority or, in certain cases, direct from An Bord Pleanála
The licence sets out what types of waste a site can take and how it must be monitored. An Environmental Impact Assessment is typically required as part of the planning process.
The EPA can prohibit a landfill from accepting certain kinds of waste if it thinks the provisions set out in the application would not prevent the risk of environmental pollution.
The information in an application for a landfill site and in a waste licence is available to the public on the EPA website. Anyone can make an objection to a licence application or a decision by the EPA on granting a licence. After the EPA makes the licence application available, you must make your objection within 28 days.
What is the site operator responsible for?
On site, the operator’s duties include:
- Compacting the waste and storing it in cells
- Covering the cells with a layer of soil
- Controlling litter
- Checking surface water can drain away
- Keeping the site tidy
To comply with their licence, the operator must monitor the site continually and must send the resulting data to the EPA.
What is the role of the EPA?
- Issues the waste licence, specifying what types of waste the site can accept
- Prepares guidelines on the selection, management, operation and termination of use of landfill sites, in line with European regulations
- Sets out advice to site operators in landfill manuals
- Checks the monitoring data
- Inspects the site regularly
- Has legal power under the Waste Management Acts 1996-2008 to prosecute a site operator who fails to carry out proper monitoring or breaks the terms of their licence in any other way
- Responds to complaints from members of the public about landfill sites by investigating issues
What is the role of the Office of Environmental Enforcement?
- Enforces EPA licences
- Supervises what local authorities do to protect the environment
- Deals with complaints about waste management that have already gone through all other stages in the complaints procedure
How do I find out what I can take to a landfill site?
- To ask about particular items of waste, contact your local landfill site to see if it will accept them.
- For details of landfill sites in your area, contact 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, contact the EPA.
What are the fees for using a landfill site?
To dispose of commercial waste in landfill, you must pay:
- A government levy of €75 per tonne
- A gate fee charged by the owner – check prices with the local authority or private company that runs the site
The levy was established under the Waste Management (Landfill Levy) Regulations of 2013, and goes towards the Government’s Environmental Fund for environmental projects.
Where to apply