Landfill Bans

Many countries ban certain materials, if untreated, from landfills. A US survey showed that virtually every state (or local authority) now operates bans, though not all are enforced. In California, bans cover latex paint, white goods, automobiles, recyclable metals, lead-acid batteries, adhesives, automotive products {e.g. anti-freeze, transmission fluid), cleaners, pesticides, mercury, solvents, used oil, whole tyres and household batteries.

A key policy development which builds on the concept of the landfill ban has been the European Union Landfill Directive (1999/31/EC). The main provision of this directive is the progressive banning of municipal biodegradable waste from landfills, to 35% of 1995 levels by 2020. In the UK this means at least 6 Mt pa must be diverted (this could reach 33 Mt pa if arisings continue to grow). Currently, more than 80% of MSW in Britain is landfilled, which means that more than 60 composting facilities, up to 120 materials recovery facilities and perhaps 50 energy from waste plants will be needed.

Some countries in the EU, such as Denmark, have traditionally depended less on landfill, and already comply with the directive's targets. In America, landfills currently manage 55% of MSW generated (120 Mt pa). There are now fewer municipal solid waste landfills in the US than in the 1980s, but the average size has increased. As recovery rates have increased and combustion has remained constant, the percentage of MSW discarded has steadily fallen.

Some municipalities in Australia and Canada have advanced the concept of regarding landfills as long-term stores of material, for future use when economic changes have transformed a waste with no value to a resource. If long-term environmental monitoring is required at such a facility, then perhaps this is no more sustainable than the alternatives.

Landfills are unwelcome as neighbours, and regularly attract a hostile response from prospective host communities, yet these facilities will continue to be necessary. However much we endeavour to reduce wastes, to increase re-use and recycling, to compost and to recover energy, the laws of nature mean that there will be some residual matter for which society can find no further use.

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