Owning a former landfill - On the nose or a walk in the park?

Changing landfill practices

Practices associated with owning and operating landfills have changed considerably over time. Landfills were often developed on what was thought at the time to be undesirable land – swampy low-lying land and creeks:

20 mosquito breeding swamp and low-lying areas, totalling more than 260 acres, were being reclaimed at low cost to ratepayers, the Lord Mayor (Ald Chandler) said yesterday. The land could be used for recreational areas, sporting grounds, riverside drives and industrial buildings. It was being filled in with refuse under the current cleaning contract and was covered with ash from the New Farm power house.

By modern standards, little or no thought was given to any environmental values these creeks or wetlands may have had including the level and type of waste dumped. However the filling of these sites was done with the best engineering practices at the time. That said, during the 1950s, 60s and 70s, waste was generally less toxic than it is today because it was primarily comprised of organic waste and contained less chemicals and plastics. Of course, prior to the 1950s, there were resource constraints due to two World Wars and the Great Depression. Glass bottles were refillable until the 1960s. So, the more serious environmental issues normally associated with landfills are a relatively recent phenomenon.

In Queensland, landfills were historically licensed by the State Government under the Health Act 1957 and the Refuse Management Regulations 1983 which were public health based legislation rather than being based on environmental concerns. Decommissioning and legacy environmental management issues were largely ignored.

Current legislative requirements for landfills include environmental management measures such as clay lining, installation of landfill gas wells, collection and disposal of leachate and the restriction of some wastes (regulated wastes) as well as conditions relating to decommissioning and legacy land use. It is not uncommon for land formerly used as landfill to be converted for residential uses as well as recreational or sporting parks.

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The content of this publication is for reference purposes only. It is current at the date of publication. This content does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Legal advice about your specific circumstances should always be obtained before taking any action based on this publication.

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Leanne O'Brien

Special Counsel. Brisbane
+61 7 3228 9453