Cuts to recycling targets slammed by environmentalists

Government plans to cut recycling targets back for nearly a quarter of local authorities in the UK have been met with anger by environmental campaigners.

Grassroots organisation Friends of the Earth (FoE) has slammed the announcement, which it claims will undermine efforts to improve the UK’s recycling record, currently the worst in Europe.

In a pre-general election bid to fend off council tax hikes, Environment Minister Elliot Morley has confirmed that individual local authority recycling targets for 2005-2006 will be held at 30%.

According to FoE, 18 of these previously had a target set for 40%. Of those remaining, over two thirds were expected to reach 36%, and the rest had a previous target of 33%.

These targets had been set for local authorities in order to help the UK meet its obligations under the EU Landfill Directive. Having cut local targets, the Government would now have to rely heavily on high-performing local authorities exceeding their new target, according to FoE waste campaigner Claire Wilton, as well as hoping that more waste was produced in areas with higher levels of recycling.

“This is a breathtaking U-turn,” Ms Wilton stated. “Just two months ago, the Government was concerned about meeting its own 25% recycling target by 2005. Now it is relaxing scores of local authority recycling targets and risking big fines from the EC.”

In failing to meet national targets set by the EU, the UK could end up with fines of up to £180 million from the Commission.

However, Mr Morley claimed that the new measures would actually help local authorities to divert waste from landfill and encourage increased recycling activity, but without putting additional pressure on council tax.

He also confirmed that £5 million of funding would also go towards supporting local authorities during 2005-2006, helping them to deliver incentives for households to recycle more and reduce waste.

“Our strategy is to help councils achieve a further step change in the way they manage waste,” Mr Morley explained. “The new package will give local authorities greater flexibility to tackle the challenges locally without compromising the Government’s commitment to increase recycling and divert more biodegradable municipal waste from landfill.”

But FoE branded the move as motivated only by politics, stating that it was just another example of the environment being sacrificed for short-term political gain.

The Government has still not specified what penalties will await any local authorities that do not manage to meet their recycling targets for the 2003-2004 period. One in ten councils are still failing to recycle more than 5% of their municipal waste. Ms Wilton warned that without serious penalties the targets would have no teeth.

“The Government poured £30 million into an advertising campaign this Autumn to encourage people to recycle more, but recycling is difficult unless decent local services are provided,” she said.

“By letting councils off the hook, the Government is failing to ensure that recycling is easy and convenient.”

By Jane Kettle

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie