Australia’s Landfill Laws: Waste Policy for a Growing Nation

Australia’s recent population explosion has had its accompanying increases in¬†production, consumption, and landfill waste quantities. With half of all Australian waste materials ending up in the country’s many landfills and the annual volume of waste deposited in such holding areas surging at some 10% or more a year, both state and federal legislation has targeted the issue with a view to reduce waste production, increase recycling, and better manage that quantity of waste that cannot be eliminated. Televisions, computers, and numerous other consumer goods have shot up in sales and in throw-aways, most of this garbage being deposited in a landfill. Some 60% of city waste, 45% of commercial or industrial wastes, and 40% of construction waste is sent to landfills. The rise in Australian standards of living has unfortunately entailed a rise in garbage quantities, and the heavy reliance of Australians in the past on landfills as the main waste management method thus has become a significant national concern.

In Australia, landfill policy has largely been a state concern in the past, but the federal powers are making more and more inroads into this area of jurisdiction. Laws requiring or rewarding conversion of landfill waste to usable energy are in the works, and recycling requirements in states like New South Wales are already on the books. The debate will continue as to the balance to be reached between environmental concerns and national progress, but meanwhile the trash keeps piling up and Australia’s landfill laws are only likely to become stricter as the years roll on.

The main concern, aside from the mere presence of large waste deposits, is the effect of seepage of potentially harmful chemicals into the water supply and soil and methane or other gases in the air. Australia’s Environmental Laws require such seepage from landfills to be recovered and disposed of in so much as is possible. This has led to the prevalence of geosynthetic liners being placed between the ground and the waste materials( more on that here). Sometimes an additional protective liner is inserted between the garbage pile and the geosynthetic liner itself. Top covers and vegetative veils are often used as well to reduce the visibility, odor, and contamination-spreading propensity of landfills. Liners are typically made of highly dense polyethylene and may have natural clay elements, such as bentonite, worked into the woven mat material. The protective layer thus created by a geosynthetic liner aids greatly in reducing the amount of environmentally undesirable elements that escape the confines of the landfill trench.

These landfill liners are either required by Australian state governments or de facto required by the demand made to prevent or re-collect seepage. Bottom liners have been in use for around 30 years, and their technological effectiveness has increased over time. A wide-ranging chemical resistance, strong yet flexible fibers, anti-weathering quality, and affordable production method have made modern polymer-natural soil combinations a popular choice in geosynthetic liners. Landfill laws of Australia have put the pressure on companies to innovate and keep up with the requirements of anti-leeching laws.

The results of Australia’s environmental policies are mixed and hotly debated. New South Wales, the province with the strictest regulations, has seen businesses dumping just over state lines to avoid the financial impact of its laws. On the other hand, this state has also seen a 30% drop in waste production and a great increase in recycling. Nationwide, landfills are still the predominant waste removal option, and they are challenged to keep pace with new laws even as the waste volume rises in Australia’s rapidly growing economy.