Over recent years our landfill estate has been reducing in size as more waste is recycled or used as fuel in Energy from Waste facilities. This pattern can be seen across the UK as part of the general drive to divert more recyclable and combustible waste from landfill, although the UK has a substantial shortfall of recycling and energy from waste infrastructure, meaning landfill disposal still plays an important waste management role to help the economy function. There are also substantial volumes of residual waste from the economy which are not recyclable or suitable for fuel use and which will always have to be safely disposed of by landfill, along with residues from waste treatment and recycling facilities themselves.
Biffa is one of the main operators of landfill services in the UK. In the last year we handled around 3.6 million tonnes of waste through our 11 remaining operational landfill sites. These sites have a total remaining void of 40M cubic metres. We also manage 62 closed landfill sites.
Whilst operating, most of our landfill sites host regular liaison meetings with local community representatives and stakeholders to help explain operations and address any concerns. Once our landfills are full and stop taking waste, they are capped and restored in accordance with the Planning Permission and Environmental Permit requirements, typically to after-uses such as agriculture, nature conservation, woodland or public amenity, or combinations of those uses. Long term environmental monitoring and aftercare management is also carried out in accordance with our Environmental Permit requirements.
The supporting role of landfill in the Waste hierarchy
Biffa supports the principles of the Waste Hierarchy aimed at maximising waste prevention at the top of the hierarchy and minimising waste disposal at the bottom. But it's important to remember it is a hierarchy with levels which all serve a vital role and, whilst landfill now has a much reduced role, it still provides an essential support function, which cannot be completely avoided.
Current UK landfill resources need protection and, when exhausted, need replacement. For some specific businesses “zero landfill” may be possible, but for most and for the UK as a whole it is not. Landfill disposal infrastructure is still required for non-combustible, non-recyclable wastes and recycling and residual waste treatment facilities still need landfill outlets for process residues and for contingency during their annual maintenance down times.
The role of landfill can be considered at three broad levels in terms of its waste management function:
- Specialist: dealing with specialist and difficult wastes for which disposal by landfill is the appropriate means of disposal, e.g. asbestos and asbestos contaminated wastes, industrial sludge's and filter cakes, contaminated soils and various inert wastes.
- Supporting: dealing with process residues and fines from energy recovery and recycling plants and general waste back-up during treatment plant down times; assisting with flexible and localised waste management solutions where other options are unavailable.
- Bridging: helping to bridge the current and continuing waste treatment infrastructure capacity gap in the UK (the difference between residual waste arisings and available non-landfill waste treatment capacity).