Innovation through contamination

Turning negatives into positives isn't always easy, but manufacturers should be aware of the opportunities created by recent landfill legislation

Recent changes in contaminated land management, brought on by new legislation governing the way that landfill sites operate, may actually turn out to be good news for the manufacturers and suppliers of environmental technologies in the UK. During the last two decades, environmental legislation has been a key driver in the development of innovative technologies and services - and the new EU Landfill Directive looks like being no exception to the rule.

The directive, implemented in the UK under the Landfill Regulations 2002, looks set to radically change the way UK PLC manages both industrial and municipal waste. While the cost of waste disposal is bound to rise as a result of the new regulations, in the process, it will also offer significant opportunities to UK companies to develop new technologies and strategies for dealing with contaminated land.

As Clive Boyle, director of land remediation specialist QDS Environmental and vice-chair of the Environmental Industries Commission contaminated land sector working party, points out: "The directive is probably the most important issue facing the land remediation sector at present and broadly speaking, the industry welcomes the advent of the new legislation".

This importance is reflected in the fact that the EIC's own seminar sessions at the forthcoming International Clean Up exhibition and conference (which takes place at the NEC from 30 March to 1 April) are dedicated entirely to the Landfill Directive and remediation licensing. The key features of the new regime, which will usher in dramatic changes to UK land clean up, are as follows:-

  • the majority of waste will require treatment before disposal to landfill,
  • landfill as a form of disposal of certain waste will be banned. (This will include many hazardous, clinical or corrosive wastes, while the highest profile of waste in this category is probably car tyres),
  • all landfill sites will be reclassified for hazardous, non-hazardous or inert waste,
  • by 2020 the quantity of biodegradable municipal solid waste sent to landfill must be reduced by over a third of 1995 levels.

    Landfill costs

    One of the first places where the legislation has been felt is in industry's pockets, with landfill costs already reported to have increased significantly. Inevitably some sites look set to close, whether as a result of disinclination or inability to meet the requirements of the new Environment Agency-policed regime. Others, which will be reclassified to accept hazardous waste, are increasing the cost per tonne by as much as 150 per cent in order to preserve capacity for what is after all a finite landfill resource. One recent study showed that a landfill operator had increased the cost for special waste, as it currently stands, at his site from £18 to £48 a tonne, in just one week.

    Coupled with the fact that the government regards economic instruments as a key part of its strategy in achieving its long-term environmental goals (landfill tax increases have already been announced for 2005-06), the new approach to contaminated land clean up means that remediation companies could be poised to reap major benefits.

    Duncan Sanders of Churngold Remediation feels that the time has come for more of the technology that is already available to be employed in the treatment of contaminated land. "There are a number of proven in-situ treatments which are established as viable solutions overseas", he comments. "It is only now that these are beginning to find application in the UK".

    While issues concerning the granting of single remediation permits to sites (rather than the existing mobile plant licences) do exist, particularly in relation to risk-based remediation targets, the suppliers of clean up technologies are generally optimistic about the future. Industry as a whole is increasingly looking towards more cost-effective and innovative process technologies to deal with contamination in-situ and move away from the traditional dig and dump principle of transporting contaminated soil from site to landfill. Suppliers of environmental services have not been slow to seize the opportunity that these changes offer.

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