Amid all the talk of innovative recycling and waste sorting technologies, one fact can get lost; most of the world still disposes of most of its waste through landfill. And we’re not just talking about the developing world. In 2015, the latest year for which data is available, the USA sent 52.5% of its municipal solid waste to landfill, equal to 137.7 million tonnes. The amount landfilled rose slightly in 2015, from 136.2 million tonnes in 2014. The rate of recycling has barely changed since 2010, at around 26% of the total, while waste-to-energy is below 13%.
There’s a lot of investment in landfill. AcuComm currently has 344 active projects in the category, worth a total of US$6.6 billion, or US$21 million each on average. What landfill investments are there? Five main categories show up:
- Typically the upgrading of unregulated dumping grounds to meet current environmental standards. This tends to be a major area of activity in developing countries, and is often a component of development project ativity funded by external agencies.
- Straightforward expanding of existing landfill to accommodate extra waste.
- Specialist waste. Building of discrete capability to handle waste types that are best landfilled; such as hazardous, chemical or other forms of industrial waste.
- Landfill gas. Installation or expansion of gas engines in order to generate electricity.
- Infrequently, work done to restore a closed landfill to a ‘greener’ use, such as parkland.
The majority deal either with modernisation/expansion of MSW landfill, or addition of gas facilities at existing sites. These account for 84% of the total landfill projects in the AcuComm database.
Where is the investment going? As might be expected, the USA figures strongly. For general MSW landfill projects, the USA accounts for 34 projects with an estimated total investment of US$587 million. This is equal to US$17 million on average and 22% of the total. For landfill gas projects, the preponderance of the USA is far greater; 71 projects, with an estimated US$1,061 million, equal to US$15 million on average and 62% of the total.
Other countries to feature heavily are Australia, Brazil, Canada, India and Russia. One thing all these countries share with the USA is vast land areas and generally low population densities. All things being equal, its far easier to live with landfill if there is plenty of room for it, away from anyone who might complain about the perceived inconvenience. Environmental pressures and tax incentives may be reducing the use of landfill in Europe, but for much of the wider world it remains the principal – and if properly managed the most credible – means of waste disposal.