The coming landfill revolution

Proposed directive to particularly affect southern EU states, UK, Ireland

The effects of the draft landfill directive adopted formally yesterday by the European Commission (ENDS Daily 5 March) will be felt throughout Europe, but particularly in the UK, Ireland and southern European Union states.

Derogations for landfills in remote areas and small islands were included in the proposal at the last minute, reportedly following lobbying by Greece. But strict conditions have been attached to the exemptions in an effort to prevent a re-run of last year's events when the European Parliament threw out the Commission's previous proposal on the grounds that it would exempt nearly half of Europe's landfill sites. The derogations will exempt "less than one per cent of the waste produced in Europe", Commission officials say.

The draft directive requires a step-wise reduction in the total proportion of biodegradable waste going to landfills instead of setting a total organic content limit - a criterion to which the UK strongly objected (ENDS Daily 21 February).

As it stands, the proposal will mean the largest changes for waste management practices in the UK, Ireland and the southern EU countries, according to waste industry sources. These are countries that have not already put in place measures to pre-treat wastes or to reduce the quantity of biodegradable waste going to landfill.

Manager for European Affairs at Waste Management International (WMI), Miguel Veiga-Pestana, predicted that the UK and other member states would rely heavily on investment in composting to achieve targets in the draft directive to cut biodegradable municipal waste going to landfills by a quarter by 2002 and half by 2005 compared with 1993 levels. Europe-wide measures need to be taken now to create markets for the extra compost that will be generated, he said.

WMI predicts that it will be difficult to achieve the further reduction to 25% of 1993 levels by 2010 without investment in incineration. This will mean planning for incinerators now, particularly in countries with a shortage in incineration capacity and with lengthy approval processes for building new plants.

Mr Veiga-Pestana predicted that landfill operators would diversify in order to capitalise on the needs for greater separation of biodegradable wastes in future. "It will push landfill operators to look at their businesses in a much more integrated way", he said.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +322 295 1111; WMI, tel: +44 181 563 7000.

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