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The Landfill Strikes Back?

February 2020

We have grown very accustomed to dutifully putting our waste into segregated bins, both in domestic and commercial contexts. We realise, of course, that we also place an amount into 'general waste', the unrecyclable fraction, but perhaps we automatically presume that this is typically being sent for energy recovery.

In the UK, we have a domestic Energy from Waste (EfW) capacity of 15 million tonnes. Around 2.5 million tonnes are also sent overseas as Refuse-Derived Fuel (RDF); so, give or take. 17.5 million tonnes of our waste is treated via an energy recovery process, either here or abroad.

So how much waste is still being sent to landfill, and what is the nature of that waste? What are the regional variations? Is landfill a thing of the past (which we might be led to believe), or does a significant volume of our waste still end up in a hole in the ground for lack of alternative options?

Twenty years ago, around 80 million tonnes was sent to landfill. As the landfill tax rose, year by year, the tonnage to landfill diminished, reaching a level of just over 40 million tonnes by 2009. And thereafter, it has stayed stubbornly in that same region - indeed, possibly slightly rising since 2013.

But what is being sent to landfill? After all, if it is simply inert materials, such as concrete demolition waste, soils etc, then do we need to be concerned? Given that landfills are typically quarry voids that arguably need to be filled with something, is it a problem if they are filled with inert wastes and byproducts?

The multi-pie-chart infograph below affirms that the bulk of waste heading to landfill (in 2018) was indeed Construction & Demolition waste, some 31.5 million tonnes. The majority of that was comprised of EWC 17 05 04 (Soil & Stones). Such material is evidently not suited to energy recovery, and, if no other recycling opportunity is available or viable, then landfill amounts to putting soil and stones back in the ground - hardly an environmental catastrophe.

Note, however, that across England and Wales, 27% of landfill receipts were "Mixed General Waste":

In 2018, 12.5 million tonnes of Mixed General Waste was sent to landfill. Of this, 8 million tonnes was recorded as EWC 19 12 12 (Other Wastes From Mechanical Treatments).

Breaking the tonnage trends down by region, are there particular areas of the country where landfill volumes are on the increase, even if the overall picture is relatively stable?

The Chart 'Landfill Tonnage Trends By Region' indicates that there are some interesting currents below the unrippled surface, such as the significant tonnage increases in the South East (and the corresponding decrease in the East of England).

One region where the tonnages have seen an increase over the past few years is the East Midlands. It is possible to drill down further, then, to County level, where we obseve that there has been increases to landfill in Derbyshire:

Looking even further into the detail of the data, we can see that the increase in landfill deposits in Derbyshire is driven by EWC 17 05 04 (Soil & Stones):

We can even identify that the key landfill site driving this increase is Hanson Quarry Products' Shardlow Quarry site (DE72 2SP):

A new report from Footprint Services is available featuring the full breakdown, Region by Region, County by County, right down to the level of Landfill Site and Waste Code in a similar style to the flow of charts above (latest data available is 2018).

This report is available for purchase at a cost of only £50. You would receive a PDF copy of the report along with the raw data (in Excel) to allow you to carry out your own further analysis as required. If you would like to purchase the report or have any questions about it, please send an e-mail to [email protected] - many thanks.

Footprint Services provides information on wood waste, RDF, food waste treatment and other waste streams - please get in touch for more information