Waste management and disposal: locating illegal buried waste using remote sensing (satellites, aircraft, drones and geophysics)

Dr Alastair Ruffell (QUB)

Buried illegal waste and uncontrolled legal waste dumps are a major problem in Northern Ireland, as well as in Scotland, Ireland, Italy, Canada. The mention of the words ‘Moubouy Road’ are enough to demonstrate to anyone the politically-charged nature of this problem. Yet the environmental (loss of habitat, pollution of groundwater) and economic (landfill tax, loss of recycling profit) costs are equally significant as the political background as to why waste is buried in the first place. Both applied crime fighting as well as pure science are being brought together to better understand how to locate buried illegal waste. When a case is brought to the courts, a number of facts must be presented such as the volume of waste, it’s makeup (toxic, domestic, demolition) and whether it has polluted areas outside of the owner’s land. Geophysics and remote sensing assist in answering these court questions, and have been used successfully in over 15 cases brought by the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency and Northern Ireland Environmental Agency (NIEA), which are outlined in this presentation. Pure science has recently involved the application of the Tellus and TellusBorder data to assessing whether buried waste, and the pollution plumes it can generate, can be located from the air. The results of this work are outlined in this presentation as a model of how focussed and cost-effective means maybe deployed to locate and assess waste, and thus assist in protecting our natural environment, especially surface and ground water.

Date of seminar: 18 May 2016.

Policy Briefing