What the former US presidential candidate Al Gore called ”an inconvenient truth” when talking about climate change also applies to recycling waste. No matter how far we develop waste recycling processes, no matter how successfully we push forward materials recycling, there is always something left over at the end that cannot be used to produce energy or new materials. This ‘something’ is very often mineral material generated by roadworks and civil engineering projects, construction waste from demolishing buildings or incineration ash and residue from industrial facilities and power plants. Whilst the demand for new landfill space is growing, the number of areas available is getting smaller and smaller. A crisis is looming. The City of Kaiserslautern has understood what is happening and has decided to solve this problem by working together with a strong private sector partner – REMONDIS.
Jan Deubig, ZAK Board Member
It had generally been believed that the problem of the growing lack of landfill space in Germany had been solved when the so-called ‘TASi’ (Technical Directive on the Recycling, Treatment and Disposal of Municipal Waste) came into force in 2005 making it illegal for untreated municipal waste to be taken to landfill. Recent developments have shown this belief to be wrong – or at least when it comes to depositing slightly polluted mineral waste in landfills. People are beginning to wake up to the fact that an effective recycling system can only work smoothly if solutions are also found for the materials left over. This problem needs to be solved quickly. There is a noticeable demand for landfill space for waste belonging to the so-called ‘DK1’ landfill category. At the same time, many of the landfills in Germany are reaching the end of their planned operating period. Many others are almost full and applying for a permit to operate a new landfill is a long-winded process. Despite all this, our industrial society continues to generate material that needs to be sent to landfill every single day. The question remains: where to put it?
The Kaiserslautern city and district authorities have now taken action to counteract this trend and are killing two birds with one stone. New space is to be created for mineral waste from its region on an old landfill site – a plan, therefore, which will not encroach on the landscape. The project is being run by Zentrale Abfallwirtschaft Kaiserslautern or ZAK, a municipal establishment jointly owned by the Kaiserslautern city and district authorities. Being an organisation of the District of Kaiserslautern and the City of Kaiserslautern, its legal status is that of a joint public-law institution which means the tasks it carries out must be for the public purpose. The purpose here is to improve the way waste from the municipalities is managed as well as to make the business as cost-effective as possible. In order to ensure that it can fulfil its remit to provide a safe, ecofriendly and efficient recycling and resource sector, ZAK has opted to work closely together with a private sector partner, namely REMONDIS’ subsidiary REMEX whose core business has been focusing on the ecologically safe and cost-effective management of mineral waste for decades now.
Together, the public-private partners are to build and then operate a ”landfill on a landfill” on ZAK’s grounds from 2015 onwards. This new and independent landfill section will be run using state-of-the-art technology. Official planning permission for the project was issued by the relevant authorities (Struktur- und Genehmigungsdirektion Süd) at the end of 2013. ZAK board member, Jan Deubig, has called this project an ”epochal moment in ZAK’s history”. Once the landfill has been extended, it will be able to accept around 7.2 million cubic metres of slightly polluted mineral waste.
The impending shortage of space can only be prevented if the public and private sectors work together.
ZAK has, therefore, reacted to the demands of the market and has ensured that its local inhabitants and industrial businesses will have a safe place to deposit waste that falls into the landfill category I (DK1) for the next 30 years. According to the definition set out in the 2009 Landfill Ordinance, this category covers waste which has a very low organic content and only releases very low amounts of pollutants in the leach test. A further advantage: this project will help to make sure that the old landfill, which operated between 1975 and 2000, does not have a negative impact on the environment.
Originally, the 25-hectare landfill had been commissioned in the 70s to accept a volume of 26.5 million cubic metres of non pre-treated municipal waste. Having taken around 6 million cubic metres, the decision was then made to close the site for household waste in 2000. The landfill has been undergoing its decommissioning phase since 2006. Work is currently being carried out to create the final landform using substitute mineral building materials, to seal the surface of the structure and to plant greenery on the top layer. Between 400,000 and 600,000 tonnes of mineral waste are being used as backfill material each year.
REMEX has a huge amount of experience. Each year, this REMONDIS subsidiary processes 10 million tonnes of mineral waste.
The next task is to install the sealing system which will have two functions: to act as a seal over the surface of the old landfill structure and to act as a base seal for the new section. This system will be placed over and beyond the old landfill site and will form a geological barrier made up of a clay layer (min. 1 metre deep) and a plastic sealing sheet. This enables the material to settle or move without the layer being damaged. Plans are for the new landfill to cover 21.3 hectares of the old landfill as well as a 10.3 hectare section of the Kapiteltal valley which is currently a wooded area.
ZAK (Zentrale Abfallwirtschaft Kaiserslautern) is located in a dry valley in the Baalborn district around 1.5 kilometres north east of the city of Kaiserslautern. The company is responsible for the recycling and disposal of certain types of waste from both the city and district of Kaiserslautern which are home to approx. 250,000 people. ZAK has changed considerably since it first began in January 1978. Originally a special-purpose landfill business, it has developed into a modern waste management centre covering an area of around 88 hectares. Its central task is, wherever possible, to recycle waste and to do so in an environmentally friendly and cost-effective manner.
The location: Kaiserslautern in Rhineland-Pfalz
Once the final structure of the old landfill has been completed, around 400,000 tonnes of mineral waste will be able to be deposited at the Kapiteltal site each year from 2016 onwards. This will include certain types of waste from industrial processes, power stations and roadworks as well as excavated earth and construction waste from demolished buildings. ”The demand for new landfill space remains unchanged and in some German states there is even an acute shortage,” explained Deubig who is looking to establish a sustainable solution with the ”landfill on a landfill” concept. According to studies carried out by the Environmental Agency of the State of Rhineland-Pfalz, there will only be a small number of landfills still accepting DK I waste in 2015 and beyond. It urgently recommends, therefore, that existing landfill sites be extended or new space created to prevent this impending shortage in the region. Thanks to this new project, the Kapiteltal landfill will be increasing its catchment area. Plans are for it to run until 2052.
This problem, however, is not one that is limited to Kaiserslautern and the state of Rhineland-Pfalz. There is a growing lack of landfill space for DK I waste across the whole of Germany. REMONDIS is, therefore, also working in other parts of the country with its municipal partners to try and prevent this looming crisis. Two examples here are the Hubbelrath landfill site in Du?sseldorf, which REMONDIS’ subsidiary REMEX operates together with the Du?sseldorf-based Awista, and AKM, Abfallwirtschaft- Kreis Mettmann GmbH. The latter is a joint venture between REMEX and the District of Mettmann. The district authorities, who are the owner and permit holder of the Langenfeld- Immigrath landfill, have commissioned AKM to operate the site which will be accepting mineral waste from the neighbouring conurbation from the middle of 2014.
Kaiserslautern is, therefore, not the only local authority to enjoy the benefits of working together with a strong private sector partner following a Europe-wide tender. Not only will this cooperation mean that the pressure is taken off both the public purse and the fee-payers, it will also allow ZAK to concentrate on its core activities whilst the private sector partner has to manage capacity utilisation. ZAK is to build and operate the new landfill but will gain some considerable cost advantages through its cooperation work with its sales partner, the ”Arbeitsgemeinschaft Deponie Kapiteltal” group (which REMEX Conmin GmbH and REMEX GmbH are part of). Being part of the global family-run business REMONDIS, the REMEX Group is one of the largest mineral waste management companies in Germany. It also has operations abroad with branches and associated firms in the Netherlands, France, Switzerland and Italy. Each year, REMEX processes over ten million tonnes of mineral waste. Thanks to this high volume of material throughput, the REMEX Group has extensive experience of working with the public sector as part of public private partnerships to operate landfills, provide services and supply mineral waste to landfills as part of large-volume and long-term agreements. ZAK board member, Jan Deubig, believes both this landfill project and their partnership with the REMEX Group to be a classic win-win situation for all those involved: ”This project will bring about sustainable advantages for ZAK, REMEX, the regional economy, the fee-payers and the environment.”