SEPA releases landfill sector plan

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) has launched a new sector plan for Scotland’s landfill waste sector in a bid to drive environmental compliance at sites, harness innovation and help the sector responsibly manage site closures and aftercare.

SEPA’s Landfill Sector Plan, released today (10 December) is one of 16 sector plans being launched this year as part of the regulator’s One Planet Prosperity strategy.

In response to mounting scientific evidence about climate change, resource scarcity and security, the sector plans set out a range of actions to help all regulated businesses meet – and go beyond – their compliance obligations.SEPA releases landfill sector plan

There are currently 55 operational landfill sites and 217 non-operational sites regulated by SEPA in Scotland. Around four million tonnes of waste still enter Scotland’s landfills every year, though SEPA expects between 1.3-2 million tonnes of waste move from landfill every year over the next three years as a result of the Scottish Government’s 2021 ban on the landfilling of biodegradable waste.

The move is part of the Scottish Government’s circular economy strategy, ‘Making things last’, which includes aims to limit the amount of waste going to landfill to five per cent by 2025 and to reduce food waste by a third in the same timeframe.

In its Landfill Sector Plan, SEPA sets out a number of actions to improve compliance – and to go beyond compliance to help Scotland achieve its circular economy ambitions. These include:

  • Focusing regulatory effort, including enforcement interventions, at sites with the worst compliance records and those with greatest community impact;
  • Supporting operators to prepare for the ban on landfilling biodegradable municipal waste from 1 January 2021 and the target of no more than five per cent residual waste to landfill by 2025;
  • Working with operators to ensure that all extractable landfill gas is utilised or, where this is not technically feasible, converted into less harmful gases;
  • Identifying opportunities to help the landfill sector to develop and share best practice examples that support compliant operations;
  • Developing effective intervention strategies to disrupt and deter illegal activity in partnership with Police Scotland, local authorities, industry trade bodies, other UK environment agencies and other relevant partners;
  • Working with partners to support development of alternative products for landfill engineering, potentially reducing the reliance on virgin quarried clay;
  • Developing a forum for businesses to work in partnership with SEPA and other stakeholders to consider the sources of the energy used, with the aim of moving away from fossil fuels; and
  • Working co-operatively with the landfill sector, communities and other partners to promote and develop sustainable land uses for restored landfills.

Commenting on the sector plan, SEPA Chief Executive Terry A’Hearn said: “This plan is ambitious. It spells out how we will use our full suite of regulatory powers, including the creation of a new national enforcement team, in clearer and more powerful ways. It also sets out some new ways such as novel partnerships that we will develop and use to support innovation and transformation in this sector.

“As Scotland’s environmental regulator, we’ll work to ensure operators protect the environment from the impacts of landfilling and ensure that communities are safeguarded. As some wastes break down, they produce powerful emissions such as leachate (a highly polluting liquid that poses a risk to downgrading surface water quality and groundwater aquifers if not adequately contained, extracted and treated) and powerful greenhouse gases such as methane that contribute to climate change.

“The transition to a circular economy is an environmental and economic win-win for Scotland. That said, it’s important that we work to ensure operators responsibly manage site closures and aftercare.”

You can read the Landfill Sector Plan in full on the SEPA website.