The Problem with Landfilling of Spent Potliner

“Old landfills holding unknown substances are ticking time bombs that require many years of after-care.”  (IuT Group website, accessed May 2015)

While once considered as the cheapest alternative for hazardous waste disposal, landfills are becoming increasingly regulated or banned as the public and their governments realise that the actual cost of assessment, monitoring and eventual remediation far exceeds that of other alternatives [1].

“There are about 75,000 landfills in the U.S., of which about 75% have adversely affected groundwater to varying degrees”  (Stephen Testa, 1994 [1])

During the 1950’s landfills came under serious scrutiny for leaching contaminated substances into aquifers used for local drinking water.  While it used to be thought that the underlying soil would stop the leachate from reaching groundwater, studies in the 1960s and 1970s proved otherwise, leading to the requirement to construct different types of landfill for hazardous and non-hazardous wastes [1].

“It is not fair to poison mother’s milk.”  (W McDonough & M Braungart, 2013 [2])

The aluminum industry, through the work of the U.S. Aluminum Association and progressive manufacturers, is a pioneer in developing comprehensive, peer-reviewed research on the environmental impact of material production and use [3]. As a result of this research, and with the encouragement of Environmental Protection agencies [4,5], most aluminum companies are moving away from landfill of Spent Potliner towards re-use or recycling as the better solution.

“The Aluminium Industry recognises that spent potlining has properties that makes it a valuable material for use in other processes and will therefore strive to convert all spent potlining into feed stocks for other industries … or to re‐use and or process all SPL in its own facilities.”   (International Aluminium Institute, 2011 [3])

  1. Testa, Stephen M. – Geological Aspects of Hazardous Waste Management, CRC Press 1994
  2. W McDonough and M Braungart, The Upcycle, North Point Press 2013 
  3. International Aluminium Institute (IAI) report on Aluminium Measuring & Benchmarking 2010, published November 2011
  4. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency - 40 CFR Parts 268 and 271: Land Disposal Restrictions; Treatment Standards for Spent Potliners From Primary Aluminum Reduction (K088); Final Rule, September 1998
  5. European Union Landfill Directive (1999/31/EC), 1999.