What Lies Below: The Landfill Mess

A study of official records has unravelled an environmental problem of epic proportions. Over 21,000 historic landfills, many brimming with hazardous waste, are hidden beneath the green expanse, academic institutions, and residential zones of England and Wales. The country needs to look at its waste management fast.

Threat of Unknown Waste

From the vast number of identified landfills, 1,287 are known to harbour hazardous waste, creating a potential menace to public health and the environment if uncontrolled seepage occurs.

A large number, approximately 7,265, are repositories of industrial waste, often designated as ‘industrial liquid sludge’. A concerning total of 413 sites hold waste of indeterminable nature, baffling even the Environment Agency (EA).

These old landfills are typically relics of the mid-20th century, referred to by environmental experts as a chaotic trove that could hold any substance. The age of these sites suggests some may have been remediated or contained during redevelopment, though this depends on when such operations were conducted.

Remediation strategies and permissible levels of certain chemicals have evolved, raising the possibility that older sites still harbour materials now recognised as hazardous.

The Hidden Distribution

Based on geographic data, 35 per cent of hazardous sites are lurking beneath green areas, 21 per cent lie beneath farmland, 15 per cent nest under industrial facilities, 10 per cent lurk under parks, 9 per cent sit under houses. Around 750 toxic pits are situated uncomfortably close to water bodies, thirteen are beneath golf courses, while four each are under schools and racing tracks.

These old landfills could potentially be storing substances now severely regulated or entirely banned, such as asbestos, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), PFOA, and PFOS – compounds that are extremely toxic to both humans and the environment.

Landfill Remediation and Alternatives

The burden of identifying and remediating these old toxic sites falls primarily on local authorities.

However, they often lack the necessary funding, leaving the sites neglected unless a developer chooses to remediate and develop them. But developers usually prefer sites with predictable and easier-to-handle contamination.

So it’s crucial to explore alternative waste management strategies, including waste reduction, recycling, composting, combustion, and advanced recovery techniques. These alternatives could reduce reliance on landfills, cut greenhouse gas emissions, save energy, and contribute to a circular economy.

Alternative Action

The challenge we face is as vast as it is urgent. As responsible custodians of our environment, we must take immediate action to mitigate the legacy of landfill hazards. This involves not just remediation of existing sites but also a radical rethinking of our waste management strategies. By transitioning from a ‘take-make-dispose’ model to a circular one, we can ensure a healthier and more sustainable future for all.

Looking beyond landfills, modern waste management strategies are harnessing technological innovations to transform waste into valuable resources, alleviating our reliance on landfilling. While these alternatives offer promising pathways, the true answer lies in curtailing waste production at the source. By promoting conscious consumer habits, efficient recycling programmes, sustainable product design, and public education about waste reduction strategies, we can reduce the overall waste generated.

Dealing with the landfills

This fight against the remnants of historic landfills and the pursuit of sustainable waste management solutions requires collective efforts. It calls for cooperation between environmental agencies, local councils, the government, and private companies.

SafeSite Security Solutions stands at the forefront of environmentally sustainable waste removal and looks forward to assisting in the remediation of old landfills. For future waste disposal, they have formed strategic partnerships with local councils to implement effective waste collection, sorting, recycling, and disposal practices.

Michael Knibbs, Managing Director at SafeSite Security Solutions, comments: “We are committed to promoting environmentally sustainable waste removal practices. Through our partnership with local councils, we aim to reduce the environmental impact of waste while contributing to the creation of a greener and more sustainable future.”

“The task at hand demands innovative solutions and concerted efforts. By uncovering alternatives to landfilling, prioritising waste reduction strategies, and forging strategic partnerships, we can curtail the environmental impact of waste and safeguard a more sustainable future for the generations to come.”

If you need land clearance done properly, first time round, contact SafeSite Security Solutions .