Yesterday’s waste is today’s energy

A huge landfill site close to Tallinn has been closed down and the area cleaned up. Once an eyesore and source of pollution, the site was shut down in 2003 and underwent significant work to tackle various environmental and health hazards. It today produces valuable biogas, heat and power for a local energy company.

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The grass became greener in Estonia, following huge clean-up operation The grass became greener in Estonia, following huge clean-up operation

"The closure of the Pääsküla landfill means the disappearance of the biggest blot on our landscape. Now it is fresh and clean and new houses have recently been built nearby."
Rainer Vakra, Elder of Nõmme City District

The three-year clean-up led to major improvements locally, among them an odour-free area, better water quality, and the return of certain wild animals. City authorities hope to turn the area into a recreational zone.

Big clean-up

Over the last decade, in order to comply with the 2001 EU landfill directive, Estonia has introduced new waste management centres, promoting recycling and recovery, closing old landfills and diverting waste away from them. It now has only five major municipal landfills, all carefully managed to reduce their environmental impact, down from around 350 mainly unmanaged sites ten years ago.

Tallinn used to send some 200 000 tonnes of municipal waste to the Pääsküla landfill annually. This resulted in an ugly heap of stinking rubbish, almost 40 metres high and spread over 30 hectares.

Open for four decades, the site was closed to further waste disposal in 2003. Over the next three years, under a major project with 75% of the costs covered by EU funding, the landfill body was capped with a sealant, a 1.8 km road was built around it, and a landfill monitoring system installed. Other work included construction of a leachate water collection system and irrigation system, a vinyl pile wall around the landfill, and a landfill gas collection system – with seven km of pipes, three regulation stations, a compressor and a gas burner.

End of an eyesore

The project has made a huge difference to the local area and nearby private homes. Bad smells are gone, the nearby river and surface water are cleaner, and there is no more nuisance from seagulls or rodents – replaced increasingly by deer, foxes and hares. Thanks to cost savings during tendering, additional money became available to build a public waste reception and sorting facility, and to clean up the 300 metre-wide sanitary zone around the landfill.

Biogas produced by the landfill has been collected since 1994. It also now used to fuel two combined heat and power (CHP) systems, selling heat and power to a local energy company. Between 2002 and 2008, annual biogas production fell by more than a factor of ten, while heat and power both increased by more than a third. Total heat energy produced and sold is around 10 GWh/year. Site maintenance and monitoring will continue for 30 years.

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