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Scottish Government to consider landfill mining

The Scottish Government is investigating the possibility of mining materials from landfill sites, MRW has learned.

The feasibility and viability study of landfill mining - thought to be the first of its kind by a UK public authority - has been managed on behalf of the Government by Zero Waste Scotland (ZWS). The project will report its conclusions later this spring.

A spokeswoman for ZWS said the project includes a review of the history of landfill mining and reclamation, examples of practice around the world, and evaluation of the economic, technical, regulatory and sociological issues as applied to Scotland.

The project will also specifically examine the West Lothian oil-shale bings “to explore whether these contain valuable minerals or materials”.

Background and scope of work:

  • Over the last fifty years or so landfill has been seen as both a simple and cost effective means for Scotland to dispose of its unwanted materials. However, with some sites reaching capacity and concerns over both the scarcity and increasing value of certain materials, there is the potential for landfill mining to become a more attractive proposition in the near future;
  • While landfill taxes are increasing and regulation introduced to ensure more resources are recycled in an effort to mitigate the situation, if Scotland keeps disposing of its waste at current rates, even allowing for waste minimisation strategies, it will run out of permitted landfill space in the near future;
  • Landfill sites could contain valuable recyclable materials including metals, currently attracting high market prices, and plastics which, although possibly heavily contaminated, could still be utilised for energy recovery;
  • Land on previous closed/historic landfill sites can become valuable for housing, recreational purposes or industrial development, and, rather than relocating the waste excavated, the volume of the mass could be reduced by the facilitating the removal of all recyclable materials from the site;
  • In the Scottish Government’s document ‘National Planning Policy Guideline NPPG 4: Land for Mineral Working’ paragraphs 52 and 53 suggest that local planning policies should provide for the reworking of mineral waste deposits and the recycling of demolition and construction wastes (including oil-shale bings) wherever possible. The bings located in West Lothian are post-industrial spoil heaps, the result of retorting mineral oil from deep-mined carboniferous shale beds at a time when Scotland was the major oil producing nation in the world. These bings may contain valuable materials or minerals;
  • Scotland is facing a revolution in waste management practices in the coming years, as the demands of policy and legislation drive the creation of a modern, integrated network of re-processing, recycling, recovery and disposal facilities;
  • With lack of landfill capacity high on the political agenda, and in the light of improving recycling technologies and increasing availability of recycling facilities, the Scottish Government is keen to manage all Scotland’s resources more sustainably. To this end, it is therefore eager to determine whether landfill mining could be both a feasible and viable proposition in Scotland.

See Insight in this week’s MRW magazine or check back online for more on landfill mining in the UK.

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