Binning the old landfill approach

Managing a landfill past its expected lifespans can result in some unexpected costs. Eric Mead, of HDR Inc, explains how councils and private sector companies can better plan for the future. 

In response to increased environmental regulations, landfill operators have had to change the way they do business.

The changes align with new restrictions placed on councils and private sector operators in managing their landfill after its expected lifespan in a bid to reduce emissions.

The state of New South Wales is one example of where the regulations have been enforced by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA).

According to the New South Wales EPA’s Environment Guidelines: Solid waste land lls 2016 document, when sufficient evidence can be provided that a landfill is stable and non-polluting, an occupier may seek to complete all obligations and retrieve any financial obligations.

This can arise after submitting a certified statement of completion to the EPA certifying that further environmental management of the premises is not required, which cannot be reached until 30 years after the site stops receiving waste.

US-based HDR INC senior waste engineer Eric Mead believes that meeting the new demands require foresight from landfill owners and operators, as well as the ability to carefully manage their most precious resource – airspace.

Landfill airspace can be defined as the volume of space on a landfill site that allows for the disposal of municipal solid waste.

“A landfill’s 30-year post closure care costs can easily run into the millions of dollars,” Eric says.

“Airspace represents the essential source of revenue for the landfill from which the operator covers all of their obligations, so developing, using and caring for it is of utmost importance.” With the modern landfill in mind, Eric developed a strategy to increase efficiencies for councils and private sector landfill operators.

Over the past two years, the consultancy firm has launched an Australian office to investigate new services for the local waste management market.

Since then, Eric developed the MOM strategy, which stands for; maximising a landfills permitted airspace, optimising day-to-day operations and minimising expenditure and generating revenue.

At the 7th Australian Landfill and Transfers Conference in Sydney, Eric presented his new strategy, outlining various products and services which could facilitate the MOM strategy.

Eric says that due to stricter environmental regulations over recent years, there is now a range of costs associated with managing a landfill, including increased post-closure care responsibilities.

“In the US, we’ve closed sites about 20 or 30 years ago due to the implementation of more stringent landfill regulations and these sites are now coming up on a 30-year post closure care mark, when in theory you’re supposed to be able to turn the keys and say ‘I’m done’,” Eric says.

“I don’t think many people are going to be able to do that, so you’re almost faced with perpetual care of these sites.

“If you were an efficient operator you may have planned for 30 years of post-closure care because that is what the regulations require. And now as you near the 30-year mark, the environmental authority is saying that the landfill is not stable enough to exit post-closure care.”

Eric believes that councils and private sector operators will need to prolong the life of their active landfill, reduce costs and generate post-closure revenue to accommodate for increased landfill obligations including extended care after closure.

To read more, see page 52 of Issue 12.