Tougher landfill location rules

More precautionary landfill location criteria intended to protect groundwater from leachate pollution were published by the Environment Agency in late December.1

The new criteria, on which the Agency consulted in 2001, attracted protests from the waste industry, with some suggesting that they would rule out biodegradable waste landfills in 90% of England and Wales.

In response, the Agency commissioned research which concluded that the criteria would have blocked around 20% of the biodegradable waste landfills for which applications were submitted in a recent three-year period (ENDS Report 333, pp 42-43 ).

The new policy will block landfills other than those taking inert waste within the 2,000 or so source protection zones designated around public supply abstractions, in or on major aquifers, and below the water table in strata where the groundwater makes "an important contribution to river flow or other sensitive surface waters."

However, the policy has been softened a little at the edges since the consultation draft. Landfills may, for instance, be permitted in major aquifers or the outer part of source protection zones where there are overlying "substantial, natural low permeability barriers" to leachate penetration and their presence is confirmed by site-specific investigation.

They may also be allowed on parts of major aquifers where, "according to the professional judgement of Agency hydrogeologists, circumstances of poor natural groundwater quality or geological structure means that local significance to water resources is very limited."

Landfills may also be permitted on minor aquifers and non-aquifers following site-specific assessment of long-term pollution risks.

The guidance will be used by the Agency in its interactions with local authorities on waste plans and landfill applications, and in its own decisions on permit applications.

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