To safeguard environmental and public health, the EPA works closely with landfill operators to ensure their facilities are operating at the highest standards. A key focus of the EPA is leachate (the liquid that drains or ‘leaches’ from landfill) management, as it has the potential to pose significant risks if poorly controlled, leading to gas, odour and groundwater contamination.
Data collected by the EPA suggested that some licensed landfills were not complying with gas and odour management requirements and that much of this could be attributed to poor leachate management.
While the EPA was considering introducing specific license conditions to tackle the issue, it also wanted to know if there were:
We therefore conducted a series of in-depth interviews with landfill operators to explore their perceptions and experiences of working with the EPA and operating within the regulatory environment.
In particular, we were keen to hear landfill operators’ opinions about:
Interviewees were well aware that their sites posed significant risks to the environment and the community and that it was important to have the EPA regulating and advising the sector to ensure compliance obligations were met.
Changing regulations were described as a key challenge in terms of resourcing, as well as the on-site implementation of these changes, especially with legacy landfills.
Interviewees acknowledged the need for such changes so that the industry could “move forward” and recognised that, as publicly-exposed entities, they could put their business, profitability and reputations at risk if they didn’t meet community expectations and standards.
However, a number of participants revealed an absence of dedicated landfill specialists employed in-house, and instead relied on external consultants, or expected the EPA to provide technical assistance as required.
The interviews also revealed that leachate management was challenging, especially for legacy sites where current processes might be lacking or at capacity. Many interviewees shared the EPA’s view that leachate management presents the key challenge for landfill operators.
Finally, participants expressed an eagerness to work with the EPA to find mutually-acceptable solutions to landfill management and praised a number of existing engagement activities and workshops.
However, they also expressed a desire to have more direct and personalised relationships with EPA staff with technical expertise and in-depth knowledge of the industry.
Our research provided some useful insights into the factors that influence operators’ capability and willingness to comply with the legislation and the obstacles hindering them from doing so.
Based on this information, we recommended how the EPA could adapt future intervention strategies to increase their chances of achieving compliance.
Armed with this knowledge, the EPA is in a better position to understand how their Environment Protection Officers and other EPA staff can provide the type of information that landfill operators need and maximise their working relationships in a way that will support the desired behaviours.
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