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Rubbish Clearance Crisis: Erosion of UK Landfills

Historically, much of the UK’s rubbish clearance ended up in 1215 landfills built within estuaries right on the nation’s coast! These lands were chosen as landfill sites because they had little real estate or commercial value due to frequent flooding and there was little understanding at the time of their immense ecological value. To make matters worse, these old landfills weren’t usually lined so the leachate containing toxins has been seeping into the ground water for decades, causing potential problems far from the landfill site. Now, due to escalating erosion and the mingling of this leachate with estuarine waters and sea water, the environmental and health impact will likely be far greater!


There is another major problem with these old coastal landfills too. Records of what rubbish clearance materials were actually put in them are scant and there was little to no regulation. These means that some of the most toxic landfills in the UK are located right on the coast, several in areas close to population centers like Liverpool, Newcastle on Tyne, and east of London. This means that as these old landfill toxins get mixed with more water and transported into a wider radius, they’ll not only impact wildlife, they’ll very likely impact the health of people in a big way too! This old rubbish clearance contains harmful materials like cadmium, lead, and carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons!

Lest you think that this is a problem far into the future, some of the old coastal landfills, such as the East Tilbury Landfill, located in the Thames Estuary, have already started to erode! Moreover, according to an intensive research study by Dr James Brand and his team at Queen Mary University of London, about ten percent of those 1215 coastal landfills will suffer from significant coastal erosion by 2055! For emphasis, this team of scientists predicts that 122 coastal landfills will start leaking highly toxic muck into major waterways, some near metropolitan areas, within the next forty years! The research was published in WIREs Water, a respected peer reviewed scientific journal.

Climatologists are making predictions that do not bode well for these coastal UK landfills either. Sea levels around the UK are rising at an alarming rate due to global warming. This means that ocean surf could start eating into the rubbish clearance found in these old coastal landfills much more quickly than current estimates. When this happens, it will rapidly speed up the process of toxic leachate getting our water. Climate scientists are also predicting much stronger storms to hit the UK coastlines. Believe it or not, hurricanes could even become a major factor in the rapid erosion of some of the UK’s coastal rubbish clearance landfills. Yes, you read that right! Hurricanes could become an issue in the UK in the not so distant future.

Here’s the basic pattern that major hurricanes have taken for decades. They start by spinning off the western African coast and then move cross the Atlantic Ocean. Eventually, they make landfall in the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, or the Eastern United States. When these hurricanes hit land, they lose a lot of their energy and get downgraded to tropical storms, then storms and then heavy rainfall. By the time they turn northeast, and head back out into the Atlantic, they are usually fairly weak.

Historically, if hurricanes affected the UK at all, they were usually just a remnant rainstorm. HOWEVER, with temperatures in the northern Atlantic continuing to rise, scientists are predicting that the remnants of these hurricanes hitting the UK will be much stronger on average. In fact, some are saying they could regain enough strength to hit the UK coast with hurricane force winds, defined as 70 miles per hour or higher (113 kilometers per hour)!

Now that the higher risk coastal landfills have been identified, serious discussions are underway on what to do about it. The basic questions governmental agencies, industry, citizens, and scientists must ask are the following:

1. What measures can be taken to mitigate the travesty our scientists say is going to be an inevitable occurrence if we do not intervene?

2. How should we prioritize these interventions, given the limited budget we have to do so?

3. Is there any way to garner more funding for these mitigation activities?

4. What can we do with our rubbish clearance to prevent similar travesties in the future?

Clearabee, the UK’s leading independent rubbish clearance company, has been doing their part by recycling or reusing as much of the waste streams they collect as possible. They do this by taking the rubbish they clear to places that they know recycle, reuse, and or upcycle the rubbish. This requires Clearabee sorting through the rubbish clearance and taking different types of rubbish to different places. Although this means more time, Clearabee has as a top mission to divert as much rubbish as possible from our landfills. You can pitch in too by using their service, which has a much higher recycle and reuse rate than any of the local councils, and by pre-sorting your rubbish at least roughly, although this is not a requirement for using their service.