After the gates closed

Dr Graham Holtom, UK general manager of remediation specialist Biogenie, insists that the Landfill Directive has not damaged the development sector

In the last issue of Environment Business, Elaine Coles asked whether the Landfill Directive would have an adverse impact on the government’s regeneration goals. In our experience as a remediation contractor, developers and land owners are ready to consider new options when it comes to remediating contaminated land, and a range of services are available as attractive and pragmatic alternatives to landfill disposal. We have already completed projects for housing developers since the Landfill Directive came into force in July 2004.

No great surprise

It’s no great surprise that hazardous landfill sites are not receiving the tonnages of waste that were initially predicted in the storm over reduced capacity. The fact is that the Landfill Directive was widely publicised and it was clear to everyone in the development sector that there would be a dramatic reduction in the number of sites able to accept contaminated soil after the regulations came into force.
In November 2003, some were predicting that contaminated land would become a “fridge mountain” issue and by July there were media claims that house builders were saying brownfield development could slow to a halt. But what has actually happened?

Much of the industry used dig-and-dump of contaminated soils to landfill because it was a cheap, readily available option which physically removed the problem. But before July it was obvious that landfill prices would escalate, and so a host of contracts were settled in time to allow cost-effective landfill disposal of soil before July 2004.

Now that landfill prices have – as was anticipated – gone through the roof, the industry is adopting a number of strategies that will reduce the amount of material defined as hazardous waste and sent off to landfill.

Interest in reuse

The demand for housing in the UK is unlikely to decrease and claims of a stall in brownfield development are unlikely given directives from government that 60% of housing must be built on brownfield sites. So where is the material that would once have been landfilled going?

Reuse is likely to account for a significant proportion of it. Interest in treatment for re-use has been high and on-site treatment can be cost effective, low risk and tailored so it doesn’t interfere with development timescales.

Another option is to take the material to a central facility and to treat the material to non-hazardous levels or for beneficial re-use. Biogenie operates, or owns and operates, eight of these facilities in North America and Europe. In the UK we’ve teamed up with Biffa to provide such a service at substantially cheaper prices than hazardous waste landfill, and other waste management companies such as Shanks are moving rapidly to open ‘soil hospitals’.

This new service is similar to landfill in that developers can remove the contaminated soil from their site and bring it to a treatment facility. It is then treated using one of a number of remediation technologies, and then reused.
Developers are innovative and market forces will continue to drive brownfield development. The Landfill Directive is unlikely to be a barrier, but instead the driver for the application of more sustainable technologies.

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