Landfill Directive (1999/31/EC)

Landfill has been the dominant waste management option in the UK for many years. The European Directive 1999/31/EC on the Landfill of Waste (Landfill Directive) has wide reaching implications for those producing, collecting and disposing of waste.

The Landfill Directive aims to reduce reliance on landfill as a disposal option. It seeks to decrease the environmental impacts of landfills and reduce the risk to human health while imposing a consistent minimum standard for landfills across the EU. The Landfill Directive:

  • Sets minimum standards for the location, design, construction and operation of landfills.
  • Sets targets for the diversion of Biodegradable Municipal Waste (BMW) from landfill things will run.
  • Controls the nature of waste accepted for landfill.
  • It defines the different categories of waste (municipal waste, hazardous waste, non-hazardous waste and inert waste) and applies to all landfills, defined as waste disposal sites for the deposit of waste onto or into land.

Historically the UK practiced what it known as co-disposal, whereby hazardous and non-hazardous wastes would be landfilled together within the same landfill. Since July 2004, landfills were divided into three classes:

  • Landfills for hazardous waste;
  • Landfills for non-hazardous waste;
  • Landfills for inert waste.
  • Hazardous sites can only accept hazardous waste, non-hazardous can only accept non-hazardous waste and inert sites, only inert wastes.

The Directive does not apply to:

  • The spreading on the soil of sludges (including sewage sludges and sludges resulting from dredging operations);
  • The use in landfills of inert waste for redevelopment or restoration work;
  • The deposit of unpolluted soil or of non-hazardous inert waste resulting from prospecting and extraction, treatment and storage of mineral resources as well as from the operation of quarries;
  • The deposit of non-hazardous dredging sludges alongside small waterways from which they have been dredged and of non-hazardous sludges in surface water, including the bed and its subsoil.

The Directive also bans the following wastes from going to landfill:

  • Liquid wastes
  • Explosive, corrosive or oxidising waste;
  • Highly flammable or flammable wastes;
  • Hospital and other clinical waste which is infectious;
  • Used tyres (Whole tyres since 2003; Shredded tyres since 2006)
  • Wastes which does not meet the acceptance criteria laid down in Annex II (Waste Acceptance Criteria)

Waste must also be subjected to a form of treatment before they enter a landfill, except in cases where this would not help achieve the aims of the Directive.

The Directive places more stringent engineering and operation conditions on landfill operators and requires them to apply for and obtain a permit stipulating the conditions the landfill site must achieve. Applications for permits must contain the following information:

  • the identity of the applicant and, in some cases, of the operator;
  • a description of the types and total quantity of waste to be deposited;
  • the capacity of the disposal site;
  • a description of the site;
  • the proposed methods for pollution prevention and abatement;
  • the proposed operation, monitoring and control plan;
  • the plan for closure and aftercare procedures;
  • the applicant's financial security;
  • an impact assessment study, where required under Council Directive 85/337/EEC on the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment.

The Landfill Directive sets demanding targets for the UK to progressively reduce the biodegradable municipal waste being sent for disposal in landfill. EU wide targets were established for 2006, 2009 and 2016 for reduction of biodegradable municipal waste. As the UK started from a point where over 80% of this waste was being landfilled in 1995, a four year derogation on these targets was available and the UK. The targets are shown below:

  • By 2010 reduce the biodegradable waste landfilled to 75% of that produced in 1995.
  • By 2013 reduce the biodegradable waste landfilled to 50% of that produced in 1995.
  • By 2020 reduce the biodegradable waste landfilled to 35% of that produced in 1995. (If by 2016 target can be reached, the derogation will not be used for this target.)

Landfill Directive Targets

The UK has adopted a Landfill Allowances Trading Scheme to help achieve these targets. Please see Landfill Allowances Trading Scheme for further information.

The Landfill Directive has already made major changes to the waste management industry and diversion of biodegradable waste from landfill is steadily increasing.

The Landfill Directive applies to England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Th requirements of the Directive were transposed into national legislation through the Landfill (England and Wales) Regulations 2002, subsequently amended in 2004 and 2005 to transpose the requirements of Council Decision 2003/33/EC on Waste Acceptance Criteria. The provisions were re-transposed as part of the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2007.


1. The European Commission, Environment, Waste - Landfill of Waste. [Accessed 17th September 2010]

2. Defra, The Environment, The EU Landfill Directive. [Accessed 17th September 2010]