An investigation into the technical feasibility of using vegetated submerged bed constructed wetlands for the treatment of landfill leachate.
Landfill leachate treatment in South Africa is still in its early stages; research has been conducted but primarily at pilot scale level. Current legislation in South Africa does not prohibit the discharge of landfill leachate into the sewer line, despite the high risk of methane explosions and corrosion of the sewer pipes. Thus, to date, the off site channelling of landfill leachate into the sewer lines for further dilution in municipal wastewater treatment plants is the most common practice. Due to the development of stricter environmental regulations, the design of sustainable landfills is leading to the 'treatment at source' concept. Increasing public pressure is also forcing new landfills to be situated in remote areas where there is no avaliable sewer line to discharge into and 'treatment at source' will be required. Due to these developments, coupled with the lack of full scale leachate treatment experience in South Africa, Durban Solid Waste (The waste service unit of the Durban metropolitan), in an attempt to develop the knowledge and practical experience required for leachate treatment, undertook a research project to investigate the use of nitrification/denitrification pilot scale sequencing batch reactors (SBR) to treat leachate from the Bisasar Road and Mariannhill Landfills. The successful completion of the trials proved that the full removal of nitrogen compounds could be easily achieved, under South African climatic conditions, in a single sludge SBR system. The system was found to be simple to operate and required low maintenance. However, the final effluent required further treatment before it could meet the general discharge standards into natural watercourses. Being South Africa, a 'low gross income' country, it became necessary to consider an appropriate, cost effective and technically feasible 'polishing' treatment system. It was decided that a pilot scale treatment trial, using vegetated submerged bed constructed wetlands, be undertaken to assess the applicability and feasibility of such a passive system for the 'polishing' of the effluent from the pilot scale sequencing batch reactors. The wetland systems were found to be affected by many interrelating climatic factors. The trials concluded that the wetlands could not achieve the required discharge standards, in terms of concentration. However, it also showed that the effluent organics posed no oxygen demand or toxic threat to a receiving environment. The trials showed the ability of the wetlands to behave as mass removal systems, which could achieve the required mass removal efficiency in terms of mass output per day.