The Scottish company, part of the Northampton-based and Spanish-owned Waste Recycling Group, was fined by Airdrie Sheriff Court on Tuesday (April 11) for failing to stop offensive odours being detected off site on 17 separate dates between November 7 2010 and February 16 2011.
The site is one of the largest in the UK and in Europe in terms of operational activities and the consent for further dumping of waste.
WRG Waste Services pleaded guilty for failing to comply with the condition of its waste permit, in particular ensuring that odours do not become detectable beyond the boundary of the landfill site. The fine was reduced from £14,000 to £10,500 for an early plea.
The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) said it began receiving complaints from the local community about offensive odours in October 2010 and carried out repeated visits. It said that on numerous occasions officers detected odours beyond the site boundary and traced the odours back to a particular cell within the landfill. The odour was being caused by the escape of landfill gas.
WRG said that the cause of the problem was in the design and engineering of one particular disposal cell at the landfill site and that the issues that arose were of a technical nature and occurred even with the application of technical guidance.
In December 2010 WRG Waste Services was warned that further instances of offensive odour being detected outside the site boundary could result in SEPA taking enforcement action. In early January 2011 the operator advised that work on capping the cell would be starting, which should reduce the odour, but no timescale was given and complaints continued.
One local resident described the odour as ‘disgusting and offensive’. Reading excerpts from statements by local residents, procurator fiscal depute Kate Fleming said: “These odours were disgusting and offensive. The odours were like methane and rotten eggs. These odours occurred often during the night which impacted on my sleep. These odours would make me feel sick and induce headaches.”
In January 2011 SEPA served an Enforcement Notice requiring WRG to complete work to resolve the problem and bring the site in-line with their permit conditions by March 2011.
While the work to stop the release of landfill gas was complete within the required time SEPA said that given the level of public complaints and the ‘obvious effect the odours were having on local residents’ action should have been taken before an enforcement notice was served.
Commenting on the action Jim Clothier, SEPA’s investigating officer, said: “The local communities in the vicinity of the landfill were severely impacted by the activities carried out at WRG Waste Services Limited’s Greengairs site. Our records show that between 7 November 2010 and 16 March 2011 over 200 complaints were received from the local community, an exceptionally high number of public complaints by any standards.
“Although the offensiveness of any odour is subjective, there is a distinctive unpleasantness in having to endure offensive landfill gas odours at one’s home. Many complainants advise that the offensive odours enter their homes and linger.”
In a statement, WRG said: “Waste treatment and disposal is heavily regulated in the UK and WRG takes its responsibilities very seriously indeed, particularly in regard to compliance with all relevant environmental legislation as a minimum requirement. The Company very much regrets that on this occasion it was not able to fulfil its own minimum requirements for compliance.”
“The odour problem was brought on by changes in waste composition which were not predictable or controllable but were identified by WRG and proactively acted upon. The engineered solution was by its nature a long term one involving an investment by WRG of almost £300,000. There was no suggestion that the Company could have done anything more to resolve the issue.”
The issue of odour remains an important one in the waste and organics sector. Last month (March 19) waste company Biffa was defeated in court by residents who said their lives were blighted by the ‘nauseating stench’ coming from its Westmill landfill site. See the report on the Biffa case at letsrecycle.com, airqualitynews.com’s associated website.