ELFM explained

What is ELFM?

The demand for raw materials and energy sources is high and still rising. Using them efficiently is essential to meet this demand in the future, too. Keeping materials in the cycle or even reusing materials that were temporarily absent from the materials cycle is therefore a major challenge to entrepreneurs, consumers and policy makers.

Finished or unfinished landfill sites form a possible new source of materials or energy. These are exploited through Enhanced Landfill Mining (ELFM). Enhanced Landfill Mining (ELFM) is a concept that performs the valorisation of materials and energy from landfill sites as sustainably as possible through a maximisation of materials recycling and optimal energy production.

The ELFM concept aims at a sustainable use of landfill sites whereby four basic targets are set: determining the needs for materials, energy, space and drinking water. This can be formulated as R³P: Recycling of Materials, Recovery of Energy, Reclaiming of Land, and Preserving Drinking Water Supplies.

Why ELFM?

The OVAM databases contain about 2,000 landfill sites in Flanders. The total space taken up by these sites is comparable to the surface of a central city. The origin of these landfill sites can mostly be situated in the period from 1945 to 1995. The economic conditions allowed an inefficient use of raw materials and products, to which waste production can usually be traced back. The effects of half a century of dumping activity have only been considered problematic since the 1980s and involve the pollution of the environment and the obstruction of zoning options.

Pact 2020

In Pact 2020 and Flanders in Action, Flanders has expressed the ambition to take important steps towards a 'circular' economy by 2020 with a use as low as possible of raw materials, energy, water, material and space with as little impact as possible on the environment and nature in Flanders and the rest of the world. The concept of sustainable materials management goes beyond the boundaries of traditional waste management to include the management of the complete materials cycle. Here OVAM holds the view that today's (Urban mining) and yesterday's (Landfill mining) wastes need to become the raw materials for a green circular economy. This form of mining is also described as mining the Anthropocene, the most recent geological period that starts with the industrial revolution. Within the concept of a circular economy the final challenge is that only raw materials from the Anthropocene period are used.

First steps

The demand for raw materials and energy sources is high and still rising. Using them efficiently is essential to meet this demand in the future, too. Keeping materials in the cycle or even reusing materials that were temporarily absent from the materials cycle is therefore a major challenge to entrepreneurs, consumers and policy makers. Finished or unfinished landfill sites form a possible new source of materials or energy. These can be mined with Enhanced Landfill Mining. Enhanced Landfill Mining (ELFM) is a concept that performs the valorisation of materials and energy from landfill sites as sustainably as possible through a maximisation of materials recycling and optimal energy production.

Remediation Terracotta first landfill mining remediation in 1998

OVAM officially remediated a landfill site of household and industrial waste. At that landfill site it built a recycling and processing plant where the inert materials in the waste were recycled. In this way significant reductions in landfill costs and related environmental taxes were realised. The cleaned and recycled materials found a beneficial reuse. The residual fraction was dumped at a landfill site close by.

OVAM Workshop 2011

In the spring of 2011 OVAM organised a workshop on landfill mining. This was the starting moment for OVAM to communicate its intention to develop a policy around ELFM to the world. Many representatives from industry, local government, the environmental sector, civil society and the scientific world took part in this intensive workshop. (More information can be found [here]).

Mining the Anthropocene

The mining of (previous) landfill sites is also called 'Enhanced Landfill Mining', or 'ELFM' for short (J.T.Jones, 2012). It means: "the safe conditioning, excavation and integrated valorisation of (historic and/or future) landfilled waste streams as both materials and energy, using innovative transformation technologies and respecting the most stringent social and ecological criteria."

This type of mining is considered exploitation of the Anthropocene, the most recent geological period that starts from the industrial revolution (Crutzen 2000). Within the concept of a circular economy the final challenge is that only raw materials from the Anthropocene period are used. The basis of the method applied by OVAM can be reduced to 3 main themes: inventory of the (mining problems of) landfill sites in Flanders (Mapping), landfill site description (Surveying) exploitation (Mining).

This simplified breakdown is in line with the work process in traditional mining and enables OVAM to get a good idea of the stock and the exploitation potential. An additional component that is less relevant in traditional mining is that of the costs in the case of non-exploitation, i.e. the potential soil remediation.