Planning a landfill site

For at least a couple of thousand years households used to dispose of their own waste by either recycling it, composting biological material and burning the rest. Population growth and the popularity of living in cities increased the demand for waste disposal on a local basis quite dramatically and it was not long before all the available obvious tipping sites, such as abandoned quarries and mines and natural features that required levelling, were full and we now have a very considerable problem in this country finding space for all the rubbish that we have to discard every day.

Choosing a landfill site is not easy. It needs to have good communications to the region it is destined to serve, and although roads can be considered adequate it has to be borne in mind that the carriage of large volumes and weights of waste over most road surfaces can degrade them considerably, apart from the inevitable noise, air pollution and dust that is generated by hundreds or thousands of truck movements, and so a rail connection would be far better. Naturally there are government requirements for every site; it is necessary not only to cause in absolute minimum of disturbance and hazards for people living nearby but waste brings with it many long-term problems, not least of all the generation of methane and other gases and leaching out of potentially toxic chemicals over a long period of time and these problems have to be anticipated and planned for right at the outset. To prevent contamination of local water courses it is necessary for every landfill site to be properly lined either with a man-made membrane or with impervious clay; a drainage system must be put in to channel any liquids that come out of the landfill into a suitable treatment area, and this is not easy; waste tends to settle over a period of time which means that drainage pipes within the landfill can become disturbed or damaged. Methane is a greenhouse gas which is far more damaging than carbon dioxide; it is however a saleable commodity and so means of extracting it and processing it will have to be put in place.

On a properly managed landfill site every load is inspected to ensure that no contraband material which can cause problems to the system is slipped through; loads have to be weighed and then at lorry wheels must be washed before vehicles leave the site, in order to reduce pollution as much as possible. Every evening before the close of work the newly deposited materials should be covered with a layer of soil to help with compaction and to keep scavengers such as seabirds at bay. Security precautions have to be taken to prevent human scavengers from entering the area; not only can their activities caused disruption to the smooth running of the operation but also, since a waste disposal site is a very dangerous environment, they can put their own welfare and that of others at risk.

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Sadly, the huge proportion of the goods that we throw away every day are either unnecessary; display packaging whose only purpose is to allow for effective merchandising is the example; reusable in some way. The move towards recycling rather than landfill is a positive step, but there will always be a substantial proportion of discarded waste which is unsuitable for this. Some of this can be incinerated and the resultant heat used for other purposes; this again raises problems of air pollution particularly since it is practically impossible to be 100% certain that no toxic materials are emitted by the chimneys. We therefore are faced with the paradoxical situation that although it is necessary to have landfill sites near enough to population areas to avoid unnecessary vehicle journeys, it is also necessary to have them far enough away to avoid health and nuisance issues.

Copyright 2006