The wind-down of landfills is taking place faster than expected, and this could impact on the transition to alternative residual waste treatment infrastructure, some experts have said.
According to HM Revenue & Customs’ data, there were 710 registered landfills in operation in March 2014, down from 722 a year earlier and 726 in 2012.
Sam Corp, head of regulations at the Environmental Services Association, told MRW that the landfill tax had had a greater than anticipated impact on reducing waste volumes going to landfill, resulting in more landfills closing than had been expected.
“In general such sites have filled their void space and not have sought the relevant permissions to extend capacity at the site, or in some cases the site simply has come to the end of its natural life,” Corp said.
Viridor, in its latest annual financial results, reported that some landfill operators were setting “aggressive” gate fees in a bid to attract waste volumes and accelerate the closure of their sites to benefit from land reform incentives.
The company, which is one of the main landfill operators in the UK, has set aside a £42.9m provision to reflect the declining value of its landfill assets.
John Ferguson, director at project development consultancy Indecol and former head of waste strategy at the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, is concerned about the possible impact of a more rapid landfill wind-down.
“We are starting to see the early signs of major landfill closure,” he told MRW. “And the consequences of this are unpredictable. We have no strategic plans to maintain regional landfills.”
“If they start closing quicker than people realising, pricing and transport cost for residual waste will grow sharply.”
He said that this should be taken into account when assessing waste treatment capacity for residual waste in the UK.
Corp pointed out that this could hit some companies managing the transition to other business models.
“The faster than expected landfill closures could lead to additional cost pressures on some landfill operators which, if not carefully considered, could constrain their ability to invest in new alternative treatment infrastructure,” he said.
Kristian Dales, sales and marketing director at FCC Environment, another main landfill operator in the UK, said the company was managing the closure of a number of sites as part of a long-term strategy to move away from landfill toward maximising the value of waste through recycling and renewable energy.
“However, we do recognise that even with a system of effective recycling and resource recovery, some residual waste may remain so landfill will still be required as a disposal option,” he said.
But he pointed out that, more than landfill closure, FCC was concerned about a shortfall of energy-from-waste (EfW) capacity in the UK.
“Legislative and economic drivers should be put in place to encourage investment in EfW infrastructure which is sorely lacking at the moment,” he said.