The role of a modern landfill

Tonkin + Taylor Waste Sector Director Chris Purchas explains the key considerations for landfill operators in adapting to future disposal and resource recovery trends.

The modern landfill is characterised by constant change, from changing materials streams as a result of resource recovery initiatives to escalating post-closure costs.

This ongoing change in operations becomes evermore complex when you consider the changing nature of landfill facilities, with leading operators incorporating a range of resource recovery operations at their sites and in their broader business activity.

To keep pace with the strategic planning, engineering and environmental requirements of a modern landfill, consultants at Tonkin + Taylor have been identifying where the issues in landfilling lie and how to respond to them through their services across New Zealand, Australia and the wider Asia Pacific region.

Chris Purchas, Waste Sector Director at Tonkin + Taylor, says the focus on materials with value (PET, HDPE, metals, cardboard) and organics means the residual waste stream will change over time. He says this has the potential to impact on landfill design and management, for example, through changes in gas generation and fill stability.

Chris says that these challenges also present an opportunity, with waste facilities potentially providing space for resource recovery activities.

He notes that increasing costs linked to the modern resource recovery environment have impacted the quantity of waste disposed of at regulated sites.

At the same time, increased scrutiny from the regulator means costs are increasing for landfill operators and smaller facilities are shutting down as a result.

“In New Zealand, more than 300 landfills in the late 1990s have reduced to around 40 now. In Australia, the tyranny of distance has slowed this transition but the trend to larger sites and transport of waste from rural areas is also observable.”

He says that the increasing level of interest from regulators means there are two options for operators of smaller, more remote sites – increase their spend or convert existing sites.

“One option is to spend a lot of money to ensure high quality operation and, in some cases, construction. The other is to convert sites to transfer stations with residual materials transported often over long distances. In both cases, the result increases the cost for disposal of residual waste and boosts the recovery of materials,” Chris says.

Chris notes that at the same time, it can be challenging to establish greenfield landfill sites as formal approvals processes are increasingly expensive and time consuming.

Tonkin + Taylor works across the solid waste sector, including operating in the landfill engineering space.

He says this makes existing facilities highly valuable assets with design activity focused on maximising available airspace on existing footprints. Chris says this offers facility owners an opportunity to provide a hub for waste and resource recovery activity in their communities.

“Smart facility owners are looking for ways to maximise the value of their existing facilities – making best use of available airspace, multiple activities rather than single use, producing recovered materials, hosting waste recovery and focusing on downstream processing,” Chris says.

“There is often space available at landfill facilities that can be used for processing and/or stockpiling as part of resource recovery activities. Establishing operations at an existing waste facility can be easier than at a new site with associated approvals and infrastructure development costs.”

He says good examples of integrated facilities are easy to find, ranging from major facilities like Eastern Creek to a wide range of smaller facilities across Australia and New Zealand.

Chris explains that Tonkin + Taylor does a range of work in the solid waste sector, including operating across the landfill engineering space.

“Our approach is to form long-term relationships. This means we support clients on developing and implementing strategy covering resource recovery and residual waste management,” he says.

“We have examples where we have been supporting clients on waste facility design and operations for more than 30 years. We also have multiple clients where we started with advising on strategic direction and now supporting them on services such as procurement, infrastructure design and ad-hoc technical support.”

Chris adds that over the years, Tonkin + Taylor has been increasingly active in waste strategies working across different jurisdictions with local governments and private sector operators.

“With current market challenges, we are seeing increasing interest in various alternative waste treatment technologies,” he says.

“With an excellent overview of waste and resource recovery in Australia and New Zealand as well as internationally, Tonkin + Taylor are well placed to help clients understand risks and opportunities with different technologies.”

He says the key considerations of understanding the risk and opportunities with different technologies include real costs (capital and operational) and the markets for products.

Another important risk and opportunity is dealing with residuals such as ash and contamination and the variability in waste stream, affected by seasonal changes, natural disasters and contamination.

Tonkin + Taylor provides a range of services across water engineering, environmental, waste and contaminated land, geotechnical, civil and planning. Chris notes that while there is clear guidance and regulatory requirements, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to delivering waste and resource recovery projects.

“The value of an experienced consultant is the ability to combine good practice with practical experience, delivering tailored outcomes for each client or facility.”