Landfill of Waste

Landfills are associated with significant environmental problems, in addition to the fact that landfilling in itself is contrary to the idea of a circular economy in which natural recourses are wasted as little as possible. These problems include risk of pollution of surface water, groundwater, soil, and air, and emissions of greenhouse gases, particularly methane and carbon dioxide. Directive 1999/31/EC on the landfill of waste, based on an article corresponding to the current Article 192(1) TFEU, aims to provide for measures, procedures, and guidance to prevent or reduce as far as possible negative effects on the environment from landfilling of waste, during the whole life-cycle of the landfilP3 (Art 1).

A ‘landfill’ is defined as a waste disposal site for the deposit of the waste onto or into land (ie underground), including internal waste disposal sites where a producer of waste is carrying out its own waste disposal at the place of production, and permanent sites (defined as more than one year) which are used for temporary storage of waste. Storage of waste prior to disposal, recovery, or treatment is exempted within certain time limits.

Some measures which could otherwise qualify as landfill are excluded. These include the spreading of sludges and similar matter on the soil for the purposes of fertilisation or improvement, the use of inert waste which is suitable, in redevelop- ment/restoration and filling-in work or for construction purposes, in landfills, and the deposit of unpolluted soil or of non-hazardous inert waste resulting from prospecting and extraction, treatment, and storage of mineral resources as well as from the operation of quarries. Member States may also choose to exempt non-hazardous or inert waste from certain parts of the Directive. (Arts 2 and 3.)

All landfills must be classified as either landfill for hazardous waste, landfill for non-hazardous waste, or landfill for inert waste. Waste is inert if it does not undergo any significant physical, chemical, or biological transformations. (Arts 2 and 4.)

Each Member State must have a national strategy for the implementation of the reduction of biodegradable waste going to landfills. It shall ensure that by no later than 16 July 2016, biodegradable municipal waste going to landfills is reduced to 35 per cent of the total amount (by weight) of biodegradable municipal waste produced in 1995. However, Member States which in 1995 put more than 80 per cent of their collected municipal waste into landfill may postpone the attainment of this target by a maximum of four years.

Certain kinds of waste are not to be accepted in landfills at all. Among these are: liquid waste; waste which, in the conditions of landfill, is explosive, corrosive, oxidising, or flammable; hospital and other clinical wastes arising from medical or veterinary establishments which are infectious; and, with some exceptions, used tyres. Any other waste that is to be put into landfill must fulfil acceptance criteria determined in accordance with Annex II. The dilution or mixture of waste solely in order to meet the waste acceptance criteria is prohibited. (Art 5.) [1]

To be accepted in a landfill, waste must also have been subject to treatment involving physical, thermal, chemical, or biological processes, including sorting, that change the characteristics of the waste in order to reduce its volume or hazardous nature, facilitate its handling, or enhance recovery. This does not apply to inert waste for which treatment is not technically feasible, nor to any other waste for which such treatment does not reduce the quantity of the waste or the hazards to human health or the environment. (Arts 2 and 6.)

For a permit to be granted for a landfill it must comply with all relevant requirements of the Directive, its management must be in the hands of a natural person who is technically competent to manage the site, and the necessary measures must be taken to prevent accidents and limit their consequences. The applicant must also make adequate provisions, by way of a financial security or an equivalent, prior to the commencement of disposal operations to ensure that the obligations arising under the permit, including those relating to after-care, are discharged and that the closure procedures are followed. (Arts 7 and 8.)

The Directive also contains provisions on specific procedures for accepting waste at landfill sites and control and monitoring procedures in the operational phase. After a landfill has been definitely closed, the operator shall be responsible for its maintenance, monitoring, and control in the so-called after-care phase for as long as may be required by the competent authority. This includes monitoring and analysing landfill gas and leachate from the site and the groundwater regime in the vicinity of the site. (Arts 11-13.)

Transitional rules apply to landfills which had been granted a permit, or which were already in operation, at the time of transposition of the Directive, that is, in 2001 (Art 14).

The operator of a landfill site shall charge a price for the disposal of any type of waste. The price shall cover the costs involved in the setting up and operation of the site as well as the estimated costs of closure and after-care for a period of at least thirty years. (Art 10.)

As part of the Circular Economy Package, the Commission has proposed the addition of an obligation to ensure that by 2030 the amount of municipal waste put into landfill is reduced to 10 per cent of the total amount of such waste generated.54

  • [1] [1999] OJ L 182/1.
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