Week 8 - Blog

Solving the Problem of Landfill

Solving the Problem of Landfill Alternatives include changing our domestic habits

Every householder in cities, towns and villages across the country has a part to play in how we dispose of our waste and how we as a society will face the associated challenges into the future.

One aspect is the small effort each of us makes to segregate our waste at home, another is knowing that the decisions we make will determine where our waste ends up.

At school, our children learn how to reduce, reuse and recycle. There are educational programmes which show them how to create their own compost, which items can and cannot go into the recycling bin and the impact on the planet if they ignore the problems regarding waste.

In many aspects, our children are ahead of the adults in terms of environmental awareness, but the problem is we don’t have the luxury of waiting for the children to become the adults and decision makers who will change the rules for the greater good.

As we see every time we turn on the TV or read the paper, the planet is choking at an alarming rate due to the way we create and dispose of our rubbish. Our seas are filling with plastic, our climate is changing at a volatile rate and we can choose to ignore this or to take small individual steps which can help make a difference.

Ireland sadly lags behind most industrialized nations in terms of our climate record and we all realize that major work remains to be done if we are to improve in this regard. But not only do major – and difficult – challenges lie ahead for us as a country, each and every one of us has a role to fulfil in changing habits which might help make the planet a place where our children and grandchildren can inhabit.

One of these relates to how we dispose of our waste. Deciding what we do about landfill and what we do with the alternatives is central to this.

Even the term landfill is gradually becoming outdated as more modern and energy efficient ways of disposing of this type of waste become the norm. Advances in thermal treatment technology is regarded as one important way to dispose of certain types of waste in a way that limits what goes to landfill and complies with EU regulations. 

But even as we strive to reduce our carbon footprint further, we have a long way to go before we can reach the levels of countries like Sweden, which recently announced that less than 1% of its consumer waste ends up going to landfill. In our country the debate continues regarding the environmental impact of thermal treatment – incineration to some – in Sweden they regularly use this method but in a safe and compliant way. When they incinerate the waste, they also recover the energy from that process and return it to the country’s energy grid.

As a country we have made significant improvements in reducing the amount of waste going to landfill. Some years ago, Ireland had dozens of landfill sites, but in recent years this number has been reduced to the point where we now have only three operating landfill sites to service the entire country. The science involved suggests that we should phase out the traditional forms of landfill completely and current trends indicate that this is the direction we are going.

There are many reasons we should divert as little as possible of our waste to landfill – it can pose a pollution threat to soil and groundwater, it smells, is noisy and can attract vermin, among other reasons.

Digging a hole in the ground and dumping waste into it is not only inefficient but also creates a problem for future generations. Countries like China and India, for so long a location for much of Ireland’s landfill waste, are also understandably closing their doors to us, so we need to find more efficient and cleaner alternatives. And this brings us back to the Swedish model.

Sweden has recently announced that, because of its work in developing a national recycling policy over the years, this has worked so well that the country has run out of items to recycle. Their emphasis now is on the importation of recyclable material from other countries to keep their own recycling plants open. That’s efficiency we should aspire to in this country.