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Pembrokeshire Herald Column - 9th May 2024

There are over 1,500 individual landfill sites recorded in Wales classed as operational, closed, or historic. A recent reportby Natural Resources Wales (“NRW”) found that there were more than 260 coastal landfill sites currently at risk of leaking into the marine environment as a result of coastal erosion, flooding and climate change. One of the main issues is the large number of unknowns and what the issues and impacts will be from the sites. NRW are already working to identify which sites pose a risk to the environment, and last year found that 89% of Welsh landfill sites had the potential to release chemical waste. The other large problem is that prior to the 1970s there was no requirement to keep records, no records in fact kept, and there was no permitting on landfill sites.


On the issue of waste and landfill, Pembrokeshire sits as an outlier in Wales and has been the top recycling county for three years in a row now – achieving a recycling rate of over 70%. Back in April 2019 it appeared that Pembrokeshire County Council would no longer need a landfill at Withyhedge due to their recycling rate effectively eliminating landfill waste. However, rather than this achievement resulting in any closure, the landfill site has instead become a dumping ground for waste from Cardiff and England. In 2022, the site was purchased by Dauson Environmental Group, with an operating company called Resources Management UK Ltd (RML) actively running the site. Following their purchase of the site there was an increase in the amount of volume of waste being deposited, albeit still in line with their permit granted by NRW. On a recent visit to the site, I was struck by the fact that no recycling activity takes place on the landfill – instead trucks unload waste which is simply deposited in the landfill.


The problem that landfills pose to the local communities that surround them has been put into sharp relief by the ongoing situation at the Withyhedge site. Since September 2023 the local population has had to put up with a foul odour emanating from the site, and a resolution has yet to be achieved. The odour is hydrogen sulphide and is being emitted in large quantities from the site due to a mixing of biodegradable waste and calcium sulphide (plasterboard). While it is unclear how this mixing has been allowed to happen (perhaps the wayward use of a skip on a building site), the situation demonstrates the level of complexity and unknowns surrounding landfill sites and their operation.


Tough regulation is crucial. While NRW have been slow to act on Withyhedge and poor in their communication with the public, they are now taking firmer action. They issued an enforcement notice in February in respect of one part of the site for compliance by 5 April, but while there was compliance it ultimately failed to stop the stink. An additional enforcement notice was then issued in respect of a separate section of the site with actions relating to gas management, further capping and improving interim cover arrangements, which requires compliance by 14 May (some actions in the notice have earlier compliance dates). It appears that the overfilling of an adjacent area meant odorous waste was simply transferred from one part of the site to another. I have been very clear with NRW that if the most recent enforcement notice is not effective in resolving the situation, then they must suspend new waste from coming on site. Furthermore, Pembrokeshire County Council are in the process of seeking a legal injunction to apply further pressure on the operating company, RML.


Amid the enforcement notices and legal action, the local community are still suffering from the odour, with fears about the implications for public health. While the immediate action must be to Stop the Stink, in the longer term there has to be coordinated action taken by Government across Wales and the UK to address the environmental and public health risks posed by landfill sites.


You can read the column in the Pembrokeshire Herald on page 57 here


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