Reusing Contaminated Soils in the US and UK

By March 12, 2018 March 19th, 2019 No Comments

Transportation and disposal fees for contaminated soil add considerable cost to development projects.  Even if soil is non-RCRA, finding a landfill that will accept the soil is a financial burden that developers must bear.

Even as we in the United States tackle this problem, disposition of contaminated soil is an even greater problem in a densely populated island nation such as the United Kingdom.  In anticipation of this problem, landfill tax rates have risen exponentially in England and Wales since the 1990’s.  The sharp rise in landfill tax rates was announced years before it was implemented, so that landfills and developers would have time to adapt and to figure in the costs long before the tax rise went into effect.

To help tackle this problem, a registered charitable organization was started in the United Kingdom called Contaminated Land: Applications in Real Environments (CL:aire).  On Wednesday, February 7, CL:aire, along with Minnesota Brownfields and the Center for Creative Land Recycling (an organization funded by the United States Environmental Protection Agency) presented a webinar to introduce CL:aire to consultants, developers, municipalities and government agencies in the United States and Canada.

Because of the limited space available for landfills in the UK, the government there decided to impose steep taxes on soil destined for landfills in order to encourage re-use.  CL:aire was founded as a charitable organization to assist developers and governmental agencies to find alternatives to landfills.  CL:aire’s method was to ultimately become a sort of  “matchmaker” throughout England and Wales for those projects excavating soil and those projects needing soil fill.  Of course, much of the soil was contaminated at various levels.  However, CL:aire thought that much of the soil volume could be remediated in situ or offsite and re-used either at the original project or at other projects – and that this remediation would wind up costing everyone less than what they would have paid under the new landfill tax.  In some instances, soil with low concentrations of hazardous materials excavated from a residential site could be used elsewhere in the UK at a construction site for commercial, industrial, or a roadway or parking lot.  Not all this soil needed to be transported to landfills.  Furthermore, this lowered the cost of construction projects needing fill, they simply accepted it from the project that excavated it.

CL:aire developed the following process:

  1. Adequately characterize the soil with a Conceptual Site Model;

  2. Develop a remediation strategy and design

  3. Develop a Materials Management Plan (MMP)

  4. Complete on online Declaration

  5. CL:aire produces a Verification Report

The MMP is reviewed by paid reviewers (“Qualified Persons”) who register with CL:aire. Individuals with backgrounds hazardous soil management apply to CL:aire to be listed as willing to review MMPs.  The reviewers set their own fees.  The reviewers must be independent of the project.  The turn-around time to review an MMP is from one-half to two days, much more rapid than if a government regulator were to review the MMP.  The MMP is filed online with a Declaration.

A Register of Materials Receiver Sites is posted online by CL:aire.  Businesses can find landowners who can accept the fill for re-use.  CL:aire will soon be expanding to Northern Ireland, increasing the number of possible “matches” for soil within the UK.  CL:aire has also acted as a consultant to governments all around the world.  It must be emphasized that participation in CL:aire is entirely voluntary.

From September 2008 through December 2017, CL:aire had processed 3,293 Declarations.  There are currently 266 Qualified Persons associated with CL:aire.  The volume of materials transferred from one site to another is 56,106,448 cubic meters.  Before CL:aire began there work, this material would have wound up in a landfill.  This is enough soil to fill England’s 95,000-seat Wembley Stadium 12 times.


In the United States, there are private firms that manage clean soil and minimally-impacted soil.  However, there is no national program for matching construction projects with one another to decrease the national volume of soil that winds up heading to landfills.  In Canada, because there is so much space, soil is typically excavated from a site and dumped into landfills in northern Quebec and Ontario.  Much of this soil could very well be used on non-residential construction projects, with considerably lower transportation costs.


The space problem for landfills – and the availability of soil clean enough to use on non-residential projects – may not yet exist in much of the United States.  It is already a problem in the densely-populated and long-industrialized New Jersey/New York City area.  However, it would be better to implement some sort of CL:aire-like program (even if it’s not a registered charity as it is in the UK – laws as to what constitute a charity differ from one nation and even US state to the next) across the United States.  This will eventually happen when landfill area and fresh fill becomes more scarce and more expensive.  It will become less expensive to remediate (if necessary) and transport soil from one construction site to another, as opposed to paying exorbitant landfill fees and taxes.  Likewise, a project that needs fill will have minimal costs importing it from a site that excavated it, as opposed to buying it from a company that provides fill.  In that way, the “middle-man” will be removed from the soil equation, lowering overall costs.  And more landfill space will be made available for hazardous soil that cannot be re-used at any construction site.

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