December 2004

Anti-Leaching Requirements Strengthened at EU Landfill Sites

An EU Directive is forcing waste disposal sites, such as refuse tips and landfills, to upgrade their anti-leaching precautions. This is especially the case in Sweden. Here, in its home market, Trelleborg is able to provide these sites with an environmentally friendly, seam-weldable rubber membrane to meet the stringent new requirements.

An EU Directive is now in force that strengthened the environmental requirements for refuse disposal sites. Sweden’s refuse tips have for many years been among the worst in the EU, largely due to the extensive areas of uninhabited land in the country. Most of the other countries in the EU are more densely populated, which has forced them to deal with their refuse in a more environmentally friendly manner. Many Swedish refuse tips do not meet the new requirements and will have to close or be modernized. It is estimated that some 300 municipal refuse tips and 400 industrial landfill sites will have to be upgraded or closed during the next eight years.

The problem with these refuse tips is that they continue to present an environmental threat even if they are no longer in use. The leaching action of rainwater releases environmentally hazardous substances into the natural environment. It is imperative that this process be halted by covering over the disused refuse tips. In addition, ponds will need to be built, in which the leachate that continues to seep out can be collected and treated. This also applies to the refuse tips that will remain in use.

Since it is difficult to fully treat the water, the normal practice is to use the treated leachate to water ‘energy’ forests, where the plants can absorb the remaining harmful substances: when the energy forest is subsequently incinerated, the environmentally hazardous substances can be isolated and rendered harmless.

Trelleborg Rubber Membranes’ Elastoseal EPDM Geomembrane product is one of the best solutions on the market both for covering refuse tips and for building leachate ponds in municipal refuse tips and industrial landfills. Previously, landfills were usually covered using plastic membranes, but these lack many of the material properties that Elastoseal EPDM possesses, such as its elasticity, ease of installation in cold weather and durability. It is also puncture-resistant and can withstand exposure to most chemicals.

Previously, one of the problems with using rubber membranes was joining the sheets together. Trelleborg has solved this problem by developing a unique seam welding technique - the Thermobond TPE seam-welding system. This technique could previously only be used with thermoplastic geomembranes. Since the material in question is rubber-based, installation can be carried out in temperatures down to minus 15°C, which further broadens the geographic market for the product.

In order to be able to quality-assure the installation and bonding of the sheets - which typically measure 1,000 m2 or more - it is important to be able to test the tightness of the seams at the worksite. The seams are made in the form of two parallel welds with an air channel between them, which enables the joins to be tested using compressed air. A fall in the pressure indicates the presence of a leak.

Elastoseal EPDM Geomembrane is an excellent environmental choice, both during use and afterwards. The sheeting does not contain any environmentally hazardous substances and no leaching or emission of chemicals occurs throughout its lifetime. At the end of its useful life, the sheeting can be recycled, landfilled or incinerated for energy recovery. “Given that there are so many refuse tips that need to be covered or provided with leachate ponds, we see this as an entirely new market that is opening up right in our own backyard,” says Bo Peterson, marketing manager at Trelleborg Rubber Membranes, with considerable satisfaction.

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