Landfill a waste in every respect

WE all have to face facts and the facts are that sending our waste to landfill is not a long-term solution. For decades we’ve been using landfill as our waste option but as research has shown there are considerable issues associated with this type of waste disposal.

By PHIL OWEN*

WE all have to face facts and the facts are that sending our waste to landfill is not a long-term solution. 

For decades we’ve been using landfill as our waste option but as research has shown there are considerable issues associated with this type of waste disposal. 

The three most important issues with waste in landfill are toxins and the leachate it generates, and the greenhouse gases that are emitted.

The three most important issues with waste in landfill are toxins and the leachate it generates, and the greenhouse gases that are emitted.

Leachate is the liquid formed when waste breaks down in landfill and water filters through that waste. This liquid is highly toxic and can pollute surrounding land, groundwater and our waterways.

Similarly, many of the materials we throw away contain toxic substances. Over time, these toxins leach into our soil and groundwater and become environmental hazards for years. Electronic waste is a good example. Waste such as our old televisions, computers and other electronic appliances contain a long list of hazardous substances, including mercury, arsenic, cadmium, PVC (Polyvinyl chloride), solvents, acids and lead. Just imagine how these substances in landfill can impact surrounding land, soil and water catchments?

When organic material such as food scraps and green waste is put in landfill, it is generally compacted down and covered. This removes the oxygen and causes it to break down in an anaerobic process or in other words, without air. Eventually, this releases methane, a greenhouse gas that is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. The implications for global warming and climate change are enormous. Methane is also a flammable gas that can become dangerous if allowed to build up in concentration. 

That is why effectively composting food scraps and green waste aerobically, or with air, gets rid of many of these problems.

Apart from the financial costs, garbage buried in landfill breaks down at a very slow rate and remains a problem for future generations.

In our Municipality we have 6500 households that have household garbage collection and overall, we produce 8000 tonnes of landfill waste each year. This puts us above the average for Tasmania at 1.2 tonnes of landfill waste for each household every year.

Importantly, the cost of managing landfill waste is high not just on the environment but in dollars. And our costs are only going to increase into the future as governments try to discourage the amount of landfill waste produced by introducing a waste levy that will help fund alternative waste strategies. Currently, Australia puts 40 per cent of its waste into landfill.

Tasmania’s waste levy is still to be determined but in other states, the levy ranges from $30 to $140 per tonne just for the levy on landfill waste and not including other associated costs. As a community we need to plan for this increase and look at ways of minimising the waste management cost increases for households, that will happen in the next few years.

We are not alone in this. Populations all over the world are looking at ways to reduce landfill with some European countries eliminating landfill from their waste management chain. They achieved this by maximising recycling, separating and processing food and other organic wastes and educating communities on reducing and reusing. To get anywhere near achieving this in Australia, we will need strong leadership from government, councils, business and the community.

Importantly, Brighton Council is already looking at several ways to reduce landfill and help minimise cost increases to residents, including the potential roll-out of a FOGO service (Food Organics, Garden Organics) for composting in 2021. 

We will be in a position over coming months to update you on Council’s future waste management strategies and how we, as a community, can play our role in lowering our household waste.

*Phil Owen is chair of Brighton Council’s waste management committee 

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