Government strategy to cut landfill: burn more rubbish

The Government's suggested solution to England's waste management leans heavily towards building more incinerators, bringing the UK in line with the rest of Europe.

Launching the review of England’s waste strategy on Tuesday, February 14, Minister for Local Environment Quality Ben Bradshaw said energy from waste incinerators could be expected to play a growing role in the UK.

Mr Bradshaw tried to make a pill the public might find bitter easier to swallow by comparing the UK’s relatively low rates of incineration with those of its European neighbours and also pointing out that the number of new incinerators that would be needed was lower than had been expected in 2000.

But he had to concede that new incinerators would have to be built to divert the necessary levels of municipal waste away from landfill.

“We’re looking at about 27% [of municipal waste going to waste-to-energy incinerators] in the UK by 2020,” he told journalists.

“The comparable figure in the 2000 strategy was 34% by 2015.

“Some of the countries rightly held up as having a far more sustainable approach to waste management than we do ourselves have far more waste from energy than we do.

“The Netherlands – 33%, Denmark – 54%. The UK is currently at 9% and we will still have far less than comparable EU countries if we do go down this route.

“We still send 72% of our household waste to landfill and we’ve got to get that down to 25% by 2020.

“Recycling rates have tripled since Labour came to power but we still need to do a lot more and are way out of kilter with most other European countries.”

He claimed moving incinerators up the agenda did not equate to placing less importance on waste reduction and recycling.

“Our waste hierarchy remains exactly the same as it was in 2000,” said Mr Bradshaw.

“This strategy is extremely strong on prevention and reduction, while landfill remains at the bottom.

“We mustn’t do anything that takes the foot off the accelerator of recycling.”

He accepted the public had little taste for incineration but said he had not heard any credible alternatives suggested.

“We’ve got a job of education to do,” said the minister.

“Part of the resistance is outdated fears of the technology – modern incineration is much cleaner than many other processes.

“Germany has hundreds of waste to energy plants, and they are extremely health conscious.”

He said it was in the taxpayers’ interest to recycle more and, indeed, to accept incinerators.

“Local authorities which continue to rely on landfill will be clobbered financially,” he said.

“And that will mean increases in council tax.”

The consultation document also advocates much higher recycling targets and more joined up management of household, industrial and commercial waste.

The document can be downloaded from the Defra website here or by following the link.

by Sam Bond

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