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What will happen when landfills shut?

Laura Tainsh

Last month, MRW reported that, during 2017, more waste was recycled than was landfilled in Scotland for the first time. This represents a positive trend in the way in which waste is being managed as encouraged by ambitious Scottish Government policy, including the 2025 target of a maximum of 5% of waste being sent to landfill.

As some of these policy measures start to take hold, how will the face of waste management in Scotland change?

In the past 10 months or so, people have woken up to the fact that the landfill ban on biodegradable municipal waste (BMW), legislated for in 2012, will be implemented on 1 January 2021 without delay or derogation.

In advance of that date, there is still much to consider by those who produce, collect, manage, transport and dispose of BMW.

Councils that have yet to determine what they will do with their BMW need to find a disposal route which does not involve landfill. There is ongoing discussion about whether a suitable collaborative approach, involving groups of local authorities, could be taken, subject to compliance with procurement.

The size of the capacity gap has yet to be firmly established, but there will not be enough energy-from-waste infrastructure in Scotland to deal with the tonnages produced. The Scottish Government is reviewing the results of recently commissioned independent research on that very issue.

If recycling rates continue to improve, the gap may reduce within the next two years but not significantly.

It is not yet clear where the excess waste that cannot be dealt with in Scotland will end up. It depends on a number of factors including: the capacity in England for landfilling and/ or incineration; the position of the refuse-derived fuel export market which could be affected by Brexit; and whether Scotland intends to become self-sufficient in dealing with its waste.

How will existing landfill operators cope with the required changes to their business models – will they even remain in operation? The Scottish Environment Protection Agency is in the process of collating that information to provide an overall picture of the sector.

The next couple of years will be pivotal for the waste industry in Scotland and all those who rely on it. Adapt or become obsolete.

Laura Tainsh is Partner at Davidson Chalmers

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