Waste strategy revealed

The Government's new waste strategy, published on Thursday, proposes a raft of incentives to reduce waste while favouring further development of energy-from-waste plants and anaerobic digestion infrastructure.

The strategy also highlights the links between waste - a subject with less-than-sexy associations in the public consciousness - with the more accessible and popular environmental topic of climate change.

Mr Miliband also announced that the Government would be consulting on whether or not to allow councils to introduce variable charges for waste collection, rewarding recyclers and penalising more wasteful families.

He warned that any such initiatives would have to be revenue neutral, however, to avoid their being dismissed by tax payers as a money-grabbing scheme.

The published strategy seeks to build on existing efforts to persuade businesses to produce less waste, targeting, for example, packaging waste and single-use plastic bags.

It also puts forward a landfill tax escalator which will see gate fees increase by at least £8 per tonne per year and mentions yet-to-be-confirmed plans to ban recyclable and biodegradable waste from landfills altogether.

Other proposals included requiring energy from waste plants to improve their efficiency and allowing the public to sign up to a more comprehensive opt-out list for junk mail than is currently possible.

"We need to not only recycle and reuse waste, but also prevent it in the first place. And there's a particular challenge for businesses to produce less waste with their products, so consumers have less of it to dispose of," said David Miliband.

"The result will be a win for individuals, who will have a cleaner, safer local environment, while potentially saving money, and a win for the wider environment because it'll reduce landfilled waste which contributes to climate change.

"This strategy sets out how we can achieve this. It provides a range of tools for local authorities, businesses and individuals to do the job. It calls for action from all, without imposing one-size-fits-all solutions.

"It empowers local authorities to make the right decisions for local circumstances in consultation with their local populations."

The Local Government Association - whose members will be left with the task of implementing the policy - has expressed disappointment at the strategy, saying that while it may outline what needs to be done, it is a little vague on the details of how this might be achieved.

"Councils have argued for an urgent and radical overhaul of the amount of rubbish produced and the way in which it is thrown away," said Sandy Bruce-Lockhart, chairman of the LGA.

"The waste strategy confirms that as a nation we need to radically cut waste but it leaves unanswered vital questions on how to actually do this.

"The LGA has argued for more money to pay for dealing with waste. The strategy sets out plans to almost double recycling targets which will be impossible to achieve without proper Government investment."

The CBI also had gripes about the strategy, saying that industry is trying its utmost to provide the infrastructure needed to deal with the UK's waste, but is being thwarted by a cumbersome planning system.

"Reducing waste is an increasing priority for businesses, which know that using fewer resources brings both environmental and economic benefits," said John Cridland, deputy director-general of the CBI.

"No doubt, the doubling of the Landfill Tax by 2010 will serve as an added incentive.

"But of course firms can only divert more waste from landfill if new waste facilities are available and many of these - too small to benefit from this week's planning reforms - are bogged down in the planning system. It is a question today's waste strategy fails adequately to address.

"In the four years to 2003, businesses' waste fell, showing much has already been done by firms to curb waste levels. Today's strategy includes a range of sensible proposals to enable business to make further progress.

"Firms are already devising innovative ways to package goods and reduce waste - before it even reaches the dustbin. Use of new materials, and simpler packaging helps make goods easier to recycle. New governmental proposals in this area will be welcome, as long as they are kept simple and non-bureaucratic."

Sam Bond



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