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The persistence of landfill

An unusual new project turned up in the AcuComm database last week. The Ibaraki Prefecture in Japan, just north of Tokyo, is looking at the possible creation of a new landfill site for industrial waste. This is unusual because Japan sends very little waste to landfill. Space is at a premium, and the local press reports that no new landfill has opened in Ibaraki since 2005. New capacity is needed as all local landfill capacity is close to being filled.

It’s worth remembering that landfill is still the way most of the world deals with its waste. It is still the principal means of final waste disposal in the US, for example. WtE has never really caught on there and doesn’t look likely to do so in the near future. The same goes for Australia and New Zealand; both developed countries with plenty of space to bury waste. In all three of these, all legal landfill is closely regulated and controlled. In the developing world, there is a technology curve, as national and municipal governments seek to progress from uncontrolled dumping in fields or rivers to managed landfill.

The European perspective is very different. For at least two decades, EU regulations have reduced the commercial feasibility of landfill to a point where its use is negligible in many countries and is falling fast in most others. So landfill might not seem an interesting area of investment, but outside Europe there is plenty going on.

AcuComm currently has 358 active landfill projects in its database. These are worth just under US$8.0 billion, or around US$22 million each on average. The USA is by far the leading country for investment in landfill, accounting for 136 projects worth US$3.8 billion, or 48% of the global value. The main area of activity is the provision or expansion of landfill gas generation equipment, followed by creation or expansion of municipal landfill capacity, and development of specialist capacity for industrial or hazardous waste.

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Outside the US, the principal countries for new landfill investment are Australia, Canada, China, India, Russia, Tajikistan and the UK. All have ten or more active projects. The UK looks the odd one out in that list, but it’s worth remembering that landfill was the main means of disposal in the UK barely more than a decade ago. New investment in the UK is centred on not on new muncipal sites but on expansion of landfill gas, provision of hazardous landfill capacity, and renovation/restoration of old landfill to other uses. Tajikistan is not a country that figures often; there are ten sites earmarked for modernisation and expansion, with international funding assistance. None are beyond the planning stage yet, however. Opportunities in the landfill sector occur around the world; AcuComm currently has active projects in 63 countries. You can explore them all here.

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