Landfill Directive must be brought up to date

‘Europe needs a landfill ban. To create a recycling society, we must turn as much waste as possible into raw materials for sustainable products. Investment in better recycling techniques is essential. Unfortunately, the good waste regulations in many EU countries are poorly implemented. Supervised introduction of the rules and their proper enforcement are urgently needed to protect the environment and make the shift to a recycling society,’ said MEP Judith Merkies (S&D) during her working visit to Afvalzorg in Assendelft on Wednesday 18 May. Her visit was at the invitation of the Dutch Waste Management Association.

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Landfill Directive must be brought up to date

MEP Judith Merkies visits Dutch landfill sector

‘Europe needs a landfill ban. To create a recycling society, we must turn as much waste as possible into raw materials for sustainable products. Investment in better recycling techniques is essential. Unfortunately, the good waste regulations in many EU countries are poorly implemented. Supervised introduction of the rules and their proper enforcement are urgently needed to protect the environment and make the shift to a recycling society,’ said MEP Judith Merkies (S&D) during her working visit to Afvalzorg in Assendelft on Wednesday 18 May. Her visit was at the invitation of the Dutch Waste Management Association.

Afvalzorg pointed out the importance of the landfill sector as reserve disposal capacity for wastes that cannot be recycled or incinerated. Investing in sustainable landfill techniques is essential to prevent old landfills becoming an environmental problem for future generations. The outdated EU Landfill Directive does not take the latest technology into account, leading to wide differences within Europe in reducing the amount of waste going to landfill and in the aftercare of closed landfill sites. Merkies: ‘I consider it essential to put the latest technology at the heart of European landfill practices, in the interests of both the environment and public safety.’

When Afvalzorg was established, the ultimate goal it set for landfill was to make itself redundant. ‘A noble aim, because it shows that the company has embraced the recycling society, which is what we aim for in Europe,’ said Judith Merkies. The number of operational landfills in the Netherlands has dropped from 3900 to 19. Wastes that as yet have no alternative treatment options, such as dredged material, are sent there for disposal. People living near landfills are often uneasy about this, and so good communication and clear agreements are crucial for gaining the support of local communities.

There are wide differences within Europe in the implementation of the Landfill Directive, in the interpretation of what may be landfilled, and in the restoration and aftercare of sites. Merkies: ‘The Directive needs updating, particularly on restoration and aftercare. Differences in restoration and aftercare across Europe are not good for the environment or for competition between companies. Current and former landfill sites should be sustainable and safe; we must not leave behind potentially harmful wastes in landfills for future generations to deal with. Plans for the future development of landfills must be clear to surrounding residents. Trust between residents and the operator is essential for gaining local acceptance of landfills.’

From left to right:

Harmen Bos (PvdA), Janneke van Veen (PvdA), Judith Merkies (MEP, PvdA), Bert Krom (Director, Afvalzorg), Songül Mutluer (chair, PvdA Zaanstad), Fonds Arens (PvdA Zaanstad)

Heijo Scharff of Afvalzorg, an internationally recognised landfill expert: ‘In countries like Sweden, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands just a few per cent of all waste is landfilled. Member states in Southern and Eastern European still landfill almost all their waste. In these countries regulations and enforcement are not as strict, and illegal landfills and inadequate introduction of European regulations remain a problem. There is no European level playing field, but a level playing field is an essential condition for effective environmental protection.’

The Landfill Directive should contain more guidance on preventing environmental risks during landfill operation and aftercare.Scharff:‘The overall goal of the Landfill Directive is to prevent or reduce as far as possible negative effects on the environment and public health during the whole life cycle of the landfill, and to ensure all costs are covered by the prices charged.In practice, in many countries the amounts reserved for aftercare are far too low and cover a period of no more than 30 years.The Directive includes no procedures or criteria for determining when the period of aftercare comes to an end.If it did, this would force member states and landfill operators to reserve the full costs and not leave environmental problems for future generations to solve.It would also stimulate more sustainable landfill management.Reducing the potential emissions from waste in the landfill as far as possible right from the start can save costs in the long run.’

Bert Krom, director of Afvalzorg, adds:‘The European Commission has decided not to tighten up the rules for reducing methane emissions from landfills.Instead, the Commission wants to introduce a landfill ban on biodegradable waste from 2020 to 2025. That is a fine ambition,but the two can go together.By not tightening up emission standards now, we are missing an opportunity to make considerable short-term greenhouse gas emission reductions in Europe.’

Dick Hoogendoorn, director of the Dutch Waste Management Association, agrees that European policy needs tightening up. ‘The restoration and aftercare of closed landfill sites in Europe is not well managed. We must prevent this affecting public health and the environment. Moreover, we do not want to saddle future generations with our problems. A European stimulus for more innovation in the European landfill sector remains essential, even as volumes of waste going to landfill in Europe decline.

Judith Merkies (MEP S&D):"The Landfill Directive needs updating, particularly on restoration and aftercare."
Bert Krom (Afvalzorg):"By tightening up emission standards we have an opportunity to make considerable short-term greenhouse gas emission reductions."
Heijo Scharff (Afvalzorg):"A level playing field is an essential condition for effective environmental protection."
Dick Hoogendoorn (DWMA):"Tightening up is necessary. We do not want to saddle future generations with our problems."

Vision DWMA

The Dutch Waste Management Association argues for amending the annexes to the Landfill Directive in a way that will ensure the European landfill sector can make the maximum possible contribution to reducing CO2 emissions and employ best available techniques for optimal environmental protection based on the safety approach. In particular, the DWMA calls for the following:

  • Draw up landfill gas emission limit values and implement the best available techniques for minimising landfill gas emissions
  • Establish clear and unambiguous objectives for aftercare measures and for the ending of the aftercare period that are consistent with the levels of emissions considered acceptable for landfills for inert waste
  • Set clear requirements for capping systems, with standards comparable with those for aftercare