23 June 2023

Reckon Mugga Lane landfill's on the nose? You aren't the only one who's noticed

| James Coleman
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Mugga Lane landfill is more than just a ‘tip’. Photo: ACT City Services.

She can’t pinpoint the exact time it’s at its worst, but whenever Tirzah Anglin drives along the Monaro Highway to and from work each day, the car’s air-conditioning system sucks in the distinct smell of something rotting.

“It could be roadkill or something in Hume, but I always notice it along the highway,” she says.

Needless to say, she’s looking at the Mugga Lane Resource Management Centre, or ‘the tip’, as the culprit.

Since the 1970s, a mountain has risen at the site comprising an evergrowing mountain of thousands of tonnes of the stuff from the ACT’s red-lidded rubbish bins. The smell of all this slowly rotting is nothing new, but it seems to be worse now.

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“It used to be a bit hit and miss,” the Calwell resident says.

“I would expect from time to time the stench would be worse than at other times, depending on the loads and wind direction, but the smell is constantly there now. It’s foul.”

To put it scientifically, over time, organic matter buried in landfill undergoes ‘anaerobic decomposition’ or breaks down without oxygen. This generates temperatures as high as 50 degrees Celsius and lots of methane.

Methane might be better known for its presence in burps and farts, but it is, in fact, odourless. The smell of rotten eggs Tirzah and others may be smelling is caused by hydrogen sulphide, another by-product.

Landfill gas to energy

The ACT’s Mugga Lane landfill site has four biofuel generators that turn biogas into electricity. Image: ACT Government.

Pollution levels at the Mugga Lane landfill site, including odour, are strictly regulated by the ACT Environment Protection Authority (EPA). In a statement provided to Region, the ACT Government said odours are kept at bay in several ways.

“These measures include scheduling maintenance activities around favourable weather conditions, minimising the duration of exposed waste excavations and covering disrupted landfill at the end of each day,” the spokesperson said.

“Odour monitoring is regularly undertaken to assess the intensity of odours during different weather conditions and time periods, including working and non-working hours throughout the day.”

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The government also uses technology to turn some of the waste gases into precious electricity.

You might know this as a number of green shipping containers draped in large metal pipes opposite the Mugga Lane Solar Park. It’s called ‘landfill gas capture’ and, basically, the various smelly gases are extracted from beneath the dirt to power generators that create enough electricity to power 5700 homes.

Since the facility opened in June 2020, the four generators have turned 74.7 million cubic metres of biogas into 90-gigawatt hours of energy and kept 709,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.

In short, the government is confident “these controls are mitigating any odour”. But there are still good and bad days.

“Operational odour levels can vary due to the type of material being disposed of and differing weather conditions,” the spokesperson said.

The best solution if you’re driving by? Put the aircon on recirculation mode.

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Our only landfill will close this decade as we are taking in too much rubbish from everywhere else in NSW.
The cheapest tipping fees in all of NSW make us a very popular destination, even trucks from Sydney come down here.
The smell will be the least of our worries by 2030, where will our waste go then?
Our rates will be over $10,000 come 2030 to fund all this mismanagement!

vyt_vilkaitis7:57 pm 25 Jun 23

This is on the nose … to be smelling this bad in winter, I wonder what summer will bring. Not sure what standards the EPA use for a whiff test… but suggest a site visit!!!

Weren’t we promised over a quarter of a century ago that the ACT would have ‘No Waste by 2010’? How’s that working out?


Ah but that was back before they rebranded themselves ACT ‘No-Work’.
Working entirely from home, employing mostly friends and family, this is one very special department.

I have smelt ‘the smell’ for some weeks now, on and off. It even drifts sometimes as far as Calwell where I live. However, I don’t think it smells like something rotting. To me it’s an industrial, petrochemical type smell. Not convinced in this weather, when it’s been so still that it’s the tip.

I’ve even smelt foul odours over in Torrens from time to time

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