Friday, March 8th, 2013
Later this spring, Zero Waste Scotland will report back to the Scottish government on the feasibility
of mining landfills throughout Scotland for plastics, metals, and various minerals, including the valuable rare earth materials essential to the production of electronic devices such as mobile phones. The action has prompted calls for increased recycling.
The government commissioned the study at least partly because Scotland is stating to run out of landfill sites, but also because of the concerns about shortages of materials such as rare earths that could make mining them out of landfills practical.
In addition to more recent landfills, the study is looking at the West Lothian oil-shale bings, heaps up to 350-feet high that date back to the 1850s when Scotland was a world leader in extracting mineral oil and paraffin from oil shale.
It is thought that, in addition to extracting recyclable plastics, minerals and metals, other items extracted collected could be used to heat homes as fuel in waste-to-energy incinerators.
The project drew a number of reactions. Chris Dow, CEO of plastic recycler Closed Loop Recycling said that the plans for landfill mining highlight the need to recycle these materials in the first place, rather than letting them go to landfill. He said the mining is costly and government money instead should go to encourage greater recycling by the public.
Neil Roberts of Materials Recycling Week wrote that, although landfill sites previously have been cleaned up for housing construction, it hasn’t been done previously for the purpose of recovering materials.
Roberts thinks the likeliest dumps would date from the seventies and eighties. Material in older ones will have degraded too much and the more modern sites have features to reduce pollution, for example methane capture systems. that would make it difficultto dig out materials.
For landfill mining to become reality, Roberts said, the value of materials would have to be higher, but he also noted that people in the industry are talking about mining landfills being a real possibility over the next 10 years. With global population still rising, and the globe itself not growing any larger, it is likely that plastics and metals in landfills will increase in value to the point where mining them will be feasible, and profitable.
The photos above only begin to explain Scotland’s concern for its environment.