The English proverb from the sub-title simply means that if we don’t waste what we have, we’ll still have it in the future and will not lack or want it. In short, reduce, reuse or recycle.  The proverb should inform any discussion of landfilling which is best understood by the wider question of how do we deal with our waste.

If you want to get a handle on what is currently happening with landfill operations, practices and conditions in the Republic of Ireland (RoI), and how we got to where we are, you can find it all in a recent report from the RoI Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “Focus on Landfilling in Ireland.”  It provides a thorough assessment of the state of landfilling, now and in the past in the RoI, including the many positive improvements in the operation of landfills between 1995 and 2010, and the significant challenges for continuing to landfill waste.   The discussion throughout the report, and in the Annex, also provides a helpful summary of the development of the European Union (EU) and RoI laws and regulations that govern landfilling.  See “Notes” at the end of this report for a summary of the laws and regulations.

The improvements have been significant, thanks in large part to extensive laws from the EU and oversight from the EPA.  When a modern regulatory regime in the RoI was first established, for landfills at industrial sites in 1995 and for most municipal waste sites in 1997, landfills were not much more than uncontrolled dumps.  In the late 1990s, from two-thirds to three-quarters of landfills had no lining, did not collect leachate, did not use daily cover, and did not flare or utilize the methane gas generated at the landfill.   There was minimal monitoring of groundwater and leachate, and virtually no monitoring of landfill gas.  At the same time, about 90% of all waste was going to these dumps.

By 2008, the waste being landfilled was reduced to 62.5 % of all waste, and conditions had improved dramatically.  All but a few sites were designed and fitted with lined cells and leachate collection systems, and daily cover was required.  Methane gas was flared or utilized and this improvement resulted in a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the landfill sector in 2008 over 1990 levels.   More stringent procedures were put in place to monitor what specific waste streams were being accepted at landfills.   Such landfill reforms serve as a counterpoint to the argument that government regulation is unnecessary and too costly, as if after the banking crisis we need such an argument.

While conditions have improved, landfilling over 60% of our waste is still unnecessary, there is more flaring than the efficient utilization of methane gas, and much trucking of leachate to distant treatment plants that are overstressed from other waste streams.  There remain substantial violations of operational or day-to-day procedures, including failure to install capping and numerous complaints of odour from lack of appropriate daily cover.

The failure to provide a hazardous waste landfill for the more than 10,000 tonnes of hazardous waste generated each year is noted but otherwise ignored in the report.  Similarly, there is a discussion of the diminishing capacity of existing landfills, which have ten years of remaining life span, but no discussion of recycling and how it could extend that life span.


To oversee 30 municipal waste (MW), 4 inert and 2 mono landfills operating in 2008-09, EPA conducted 434 audits and inspections (6 per site per year, on average), 147 visits to sample surface water, groundwater and leachate (2 per site per year, on average), and 44 visits to monitor landfill gas.  These audits/inspections produced 207 notices containing a total of 531 instances of non-compliance with operational standards in 2008-09.  Several landfills account for more than a fair share of the violations and complaints.

In the period from 2001 to 2009, EPA initiated fifteen successful prosecutions against landfills, returned two cases for prosecution on indictment, and collected fines and costs of €250,347.

Apparently EPA is not able to quantify enforcement against landfills subject to IPCC licenses, as that data is not broken down for such sites.  This is a deficiency that calls for correction.  The overall level of enforcement and prosecutions is hard to evaluate without some comparison with similar programs in other jurisdictions.

Next Steps

One of the current challenges for the EPA, and the Irish public, is the handling of biodegradable municipal waste (BMW – not to be confused with the automobile of the same initials).  BMW is now regulated by the 1999 EU Landfill Directive, and implementing RoI regulations in 2002 (see Note below). Under the Landfill Directive, Ireland obtained a derogation, or delay of four years, to meet certain requirements.  With the derogation, the Directive requires the RoI to reduce the amount of BMW going to landfills to 75% of the total amount of BMW in 1995 by July 2010, to 50% of 1995 levels by July 2013, and to 35% of 1995 levels by 2016.   The July 2010 deadline of 75% of 1995 levels already has been exceeded, substantially.  As of 2008, 1,196,044 tonnes of BMW were landfilled whereas the requirement was that not more than 916,000 tonnes were allowed.   To meet the 2013 deadline (less than three years away), no more than 610,000 tonnes can be landfilled (requiring a reduction of about 50% over 2008 levels to comply with the Directive), and by 2016 it can be no more than 427,000 tonnes (a further reduction of about 65% over 2008 levels).  Where the reductions are coming from is unclear.  The EPA has set forth its efforts to lay a path for meeting the deadlines, and while the government has made some attempts to address the issue, with regulations on food waste and encouragement of brown-bin source–segregated collection for organic waste, it remains cloudy as to how the government is going to meet the BMW limits.  One assumes this dilemma, created of course by past inaction by the government, is providing pressure for what some see as the apparent quick fix of incinerators.

While EPA addresses the on going operational and management violations at current sites, the agency and local authorities have a major challenge in dealing with the closure of older, municipal dumps, the so-called “legacy” sites.  The use of the word “legacy” to describe old, unlicensed dumps that had few, if any, protections against waste pollution is interesting.  It suggests these are gifts from the past that have value, as in, “he received a legacy of money or personal property from an ancestor or friend.”  Who out there is interested in receiving such a “gift” – an old, abandoned dump with potentially toxic material and with potentially enormous costs of cleanup.

These sites — over 300 in total — are more accurately described as ghosts or demons from the past that will continue to haunt us until we confront them and cleanse them, not through a sacred ceremony but from careful assessment, full disclosure about their threats, if any, and complete cleanup.  Where the money for all this will come from is the critical question that remains unanswered.

When faced with a similar problem, but with more serious and more numbers of dangerous old sites, the United States enacted what is commonly called the Superfund act, more formally known as the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA).  That legislation provided, in effect, that any company that disposed of any material containing any hazardous substance, broadly construed, was jointly and severally liable for the entire cost of assessing and remediating the landfill.  This most aggressive enforcement scheme was considered by the regulated community as draconian and by the enforcement community as enlightened. Funding came from a levy on oil and other companies, many of which were responsible for the contamination, although the Newt Gingrich Republican-led Congress of 1994 rescinded that funding.

Ireland began to address these historic closed sites when in 2008 the RoI adopted the Waste Management (Certification of Historic Unlicensed Waste Disposal and Recovery Activity) Regulations [S.I. No. 524 of 2008].  These regulations fill in an important gap in prior waste regulations where local authorities were not required to have authorization for their waste management activities even though they carried on much of the MSW landfilling between 1977 and 1997, i.e., before EPA began regulating landfills.  The regulations also respond to the European Court of Justice’s ruling that Ireland had failed to implement the Waste Framework Directive (Case C-494/01).  The regulations require local authorities to identify all closed landfills, carry out a risk assessment of them, and apply to EPA for a certificate for closed landfills.    See “Report” on Historic Mine Sites – Inventory and Risk Classification, Geochemical Characterisation, and Environmental Matters in irish environment.

Where local authorities are going to get the Euros to deal with these closed sites is not discussed, other than a passing reference to funding from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government for a pilot project on environmental risk assessment of seventeen closed, or historic, sites.  To get a sense of the scope of the costs for these sites, the report notes that Cork City Council spent about €20 million by the end of 2008 for the closure of a landfill, and more expenses are expected.  In early October 2010, the EPA filed a legal action against the owners and operators of an illegal landfill near Naas for dumping over one million cubic metres of waste and refusing to remove the waste or cleanup the site.  The three companies, owned by one person, are in liquidation, or receivership or are insolvent.  In such circumstances it is often the public that ends up paying the costs of the cleanup.

A new Waste Framework Directive (WFD) comes into force in December 2010, and while it addresses the wider issue of waste, and not requirements for how landfills operate, it raises a number of issues that will impact onlandfilling and its alternatives.  The WFD requires Member States to apply the “waste hierarchy” as a priority order in waste prevention and management legislation and policy.  The hierarchy goes from the top priorities to the least preferred: prevention is the top priority followed by Re-use, Recycling, Recovery and then the least preferred, Disposal.  Landfilling is of course a disposal and not preferred.  The WFD also sets up “separate collections” of waste for at least paper, metal, plastic, and glass by 2015, for both household and business waste, where technically, environmentally and economically practicable; requires recycling 50% of waste from households by 2020; and the recovery of  70% of construction and demolition waste by 2020.

A critical issue, in light of controversies over the planned incinerators at Poolbeg in the RoI and on Lough Neagh in Northern Ireland, is the position of incineration in this hierarchy.  The Directive reclassifies waste-to-energy incineration as a “recovery” operation rather than disposal.   An analysis by the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) concludes that, “The status of incineration has changed in the WFD, with the re-classification of incineration as energy recovery, provided certain efficiency standards are met. To the date the jurisprudence (C-458/00) ruled all incineration as disposal; with the new WFD incineration can be considered as recovery.”

The analysis from the EEB also shows that Ireland has the second highest level of generating municipal waste, at about 800 kg per capita (2007) compared to the Eu-27 average of 522 kg.  Figure 3.  Much more needs to be done to prevent, re-use and recycle municipal waste before landfilling or incineration are promoted as a means of handling waste.

Notes: A synopsis of EU and RoI laws and regulations on landfilling

Landfilling came under EU regulation with the Waste Framework Directive in 1975 .  Council Directive of 15 July 1975 on waste (75/442/EEQ.  Official Journal of the European Communities L 194, 25/071975.

This Directive was implemented in the RoI through the European Communities (Waste) Regulations in 1979 that created a permit system for landfills. The Regulations made local authorities responsible for the planning, organisation, authorisation and supervision of waste operations in their areas and required them to prepare waste management plans.  Oversight and enforcement of the regulations was in the hands of the Minister for the Environment.

With the passage of the Environmental Protection Agency Act, 1992, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was created and it assumed responsibility for establishing criteria for the selection, management, operation and termination of landfills. Local authorities remained the relevant agencies for operating and/or permitting landfills and they reported to the EPA. Over the years, and continuing today, EPA has issued a series of criteria and guidelines for landfills.  By 1994, the EPA initiated integrated pollution control (IPC) licensing of industrial facilities, including any landfills on these sites.

Other landfill sites, sometimes described as stand-alone sites, to include municipal solid waste (MSW), inert (or construction and demolition, or C&D) and mono (single waste type from single source) landfills, were subjected to a licensing regime under the requirements of the RoI Waste Management Act, No. 10/1996, and regulations in 1997. [the Act] [the regulations]

The Environmental Protection Agency Act of 1992 was amended by the Protection of the Environment Act, 27/2003, to update the IPC license regime with an Integrated Pollution Prevention Control (IPCC) license system in conformance with the EU IPPC Directive.

Council Directive 96/61/EC of 24 September 1996 concerning integrated pollution prevention and control.  Official Journal of the European Communities L. 257, 10/10/1996.  [EU Directive] [RoI act]

Then in 1999, the EC Landfill Directive was published providing detailed requirements for classifying landfills, waste acceptance criteria and procedures, permitting, design, monitoring, financial security and closure and aftercare.  Most importantly, this Directive also set targets for diverting biodegradable municipal waste (BMW), mainly organic waste, from landfills.  The requirements of this Landfill Directive were transposed into Irish law by the Waste Management Licensing (Amendment) Regulations, 2002 [S.I. No. 336 of 2002] and the European Communities (Amendment of Waste Management Licensing) Regulations 2002 [S.I. No. 377 of 2002], both subsequently replaced by the Waste Management Licensing Regulations, 2004 [S.I. No. 395 of 2004]

Council Directive 1999/31/EC of 26 April 1999 on the landfill of waste.  Official Journal of the European Communities L. 182, 16/071999.  [EC Directive] [2002-S.I. 336] [2002-S.I. 337] [2004]

Another piece to this waste puzzle is the 2006 Extractive Waste Directive that regulates waste from extractive industries, i.e. the waste from prospecting, extraction, treatment and storage of mineral resources including the working of quarries.  This waste is not covered by the other waste directives or regulations.  The Directive’s requirements were transposed into Irish law by the Waste Management (Management of Waste from the Extractive Industries) Regulations, 2009 [S.I. No. 566 of 2009].  These regulations reach a number of facilities including those with mine tailings waste.

Directive 2006/21/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 15 March 2006 on the management of waste from extractive industries and amending Directive 2004/35/EC.  Official Journal of the European Communities L. 102/15, 11/04/2006. [EU Directive] [RoI regulations]

There are several final, and important, laws to mention covering landfills.

The initial 1975 Waste framework Directive (and amendments) is being replaced by the 2008 Waste Framework Directive (WFD) that comes into force on 12 December 2010.  See discussion above in body of this report.

Directive 2008/98/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 19 November 2008 on waste and repealing certain Directives.  Official Journal of the European Communities L. 312/3, 22/11/2008.

In 2008, the RoI also adopted the European Communities (Environmental Liability) Regulations, implementing Directive 2004/35/CE of the European Parliament and of the Council of 2 April 2004 on environmental liability with regard to the prevention and remedying of environmental damage.  The regulations are intended to discourage damage to the environment and to make operators liable for preventing and remedying any damage.  In 2009, the RoI EPA established an Environmental Liability Unit to implement the Directive. [RoI regulations]

Finally, in 2008 the RoI adopted the Waste Management (Certification of Historic Unlicensed Waste Disposal and Recovery Activity) Regulations [S.I. No. 524 of 2008].  See discussion above.


EPA, Focus on Landfilling in Ireland (2010),30262,en.html

Campaign Guide to the Waste Framework Directive transposition – opportunities and actions for NGOs published by the European Environmental Bureau (Brussels, January 2010).

European Environment Agency, Diverting waste from landfill: Effectiveness of wastemanagement policies in the European Union (Report No 7/2009).

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