Sweden cracks down on waste landfilling

New tax, tighter monitoring, announced as studies point to endocrine problems in fish

The Swedish government has prepared a new tax on landfill, to further refine a waste handling system already regarded as one of the most environmentally advanced in the EU. Water leaching from landfills, still the main route for waste disposal in the country, is also to be monitored more closely by the Swedish environmental protection agency (EPA), which fears it may have caused severe pollution in at least one lake.

The new tax, contained in a bill presented to parliament earlier this month, is proposed to be levied at a rate of SKr250 (euros 28) per tonne on all household and general industrial waste, and collected by landfill operators at point of receipt. Waste from mining and general construction will be exempted, as will a list of 20 substances from the chemical and ferrous industries for which landfilling represents "the best possible environmental solution for the time being," an environment ministry spokesperson told ENDS Daily. These exemptions apply for a limited period, she stressed, and will be phased out as better disposal techniques are perfected.

Combined with a proposed EU directive limiting the amount of landfilled biodegradable waste which is scheduled for adoption in June (ENDS Daily 2 February) and a wide-ranging waste management law adopted in Sweden last year (ENDS Daily 22 March 1997), the proposed tax is aimed at helping to achieve a reduction of 50-70% in volumes of landfilled waste by 2005. The domestic legislation will require many hazardous substances to be recycled, give producers more responsibility for take-back, impose compulsory sorting by households and companies and ban the landfilling of combustible and organic waste. The EPA says it is likely to mean larger and more specialised landfills, rather than the 600 or so in operation at present.

The EPA has meanwhile announced a programme for monitoring the environmental effects of water leaching from 10-20 landfills around the country. Water leaching from a municipal landfill has already been blamed for heavy pollution of a rural lake four kilometres away, at Molnbyggen in central Sweden, first identified last year. Almost one-third of the lake's fish show signs of endocrine disruption, and many of the females are infertile due to shrunken ovaries. The EPA last week allocated a further SKr1m for more detailed investigations, including chemical analyses, of the leachate.

The authorities also welcomed a contribution by Greenpeace Sweden, which has just published a list of 303 waterways where organic chemicals from landfills are discharged and has asked the public to report on effects on wildlife. Greenpeace conducted detailed analysis of leachate samples found near 28 of these landfills, and says it found a range of potentially hazardous organic chemicals including benzene, toluene, PCB and DDT.

Follow Up:
Swedish environment ministry, tel: +46 8 405 1000; Swedish EPA, tel: +46 8 698 1000; Greenpeace Sweden, tel: +46 8 702 7086.

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