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Landfill Mining


With commodity prices rising at unprecedented rates the viability of landfill mining is now being looked at seriously, with landfills regarded as untapped mines of valuable resources, such as plastics and metals.


Their exploitation will raise interesting legal issues. The concept of waste remaining waste until recovered or disposed of is familiar. That being so, how quickly after deposit at a landfill is waste finally “disposed of”? Is it immediately, or must we wait, perhaps until it has biodegraded? But that would be a meaningless test for inert wastes.

With “landfill” being the deposit of waste onto or into land, and with the new Waste Framework Directive stipulating that “land” is excluded from its remit, it begs an interesting question as to the point at which waste deposited “into” land simply becomes part of the land, and therefore no longer a waste.

Landfills still subject to closure and aftercare requirements under the Landfill Directive would create a regulatory headache, but mining a historic landfill might create fewer difficulties. The activity would not fall naturally into any existing PPC category and if the contents are not waste, presumably no environmental permit would be necessary. However, unless you exploit 100 percent of what you excavate, you are presumably re-creating waste from the material you then re-discard.

Perhaps, as with carbon capture and storage, if progress starts to be made, the legislators may step in and fill the regulatory gap.

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