Environment: Landfill sites

United Kingdom
EU environment ministers are due to discuss the Proposal on the Landfill of Waste Directive at their next meeting. This is the second Proposal on landfill sites proposed since 1991; its predecessor was rejected by the European Parliament in 1996 because some provisions adopted by the Council were contrary to the Directive's environmental protection objectives. Once again, it appears that the Proposal's progress will not be smooth as there are significant differences of opinion regarding some of its requirements.

The purpose of the Directive is to harmonise the standards applying to landfills throughout the EU, both in terms of the wastes that may be landfilled and the way in which landfill sites are operated. Some wastes may not be landfilled, including most liquid wastes, explosive, corrosive, oxidising and flammable wastes, infectious clinical wastes and used tyres.

The proportion of biodegradable municipal waste going to landfill must be reduced gradually to 25% by weight of the biodegradable waste produced in 1993 by the year 2010. The aim is to reduce emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Waste must be treated to reduce its volume or hazardous nature prior to landfilling and co-disposal of hazardous and non-hazardous waste will be prohibited. Landfill sites must be licensed and operated in accordance with the requirements of the Directive. Finally, the price charged for landfilling waste must cover all the costs of setting up and operating the landfill site, including its closure and aftercare for at least 50 years.

The lack of agreement between Member States and the EU institutions on some of these provisions reflects the widespread impact that this Directive will have. The UK government is particularly concerned that the targets for reducing the landfilling of biodegradable waste will force waste to be incinerated without encouraging recycling and composting. Other Member States want derogations for small landfills or for specific types of waste or disposal operations. While the environmental standards set in the Directive are being criticised by some countries, others, particularly north European States, believe that they do not go far enough. The discussions on the Directive are still at a relatively early stage but there is pressure to give this Proposal priority in view of the long period of time since the original legislation was submitted. It is hoped that political agreement, or perhaps even a common position, will be reached in the Council by early next year.