Incinerator increase looms as councils represented by cabinet ministers fail on recycling

The UK Government's new strategy for waste is likely to include proposals for an increase in new incinerators, despite the fact that the local authorities in the constituencies of leading cabinet members, including the Environment Minister, are among the worst at recycling their rubbish.

The deputy prime minister, John Prescott, wants to release the final draft of the waste strategy before the local elections in May. But, according to Friends of the Earth (FoE), the publication of the strategy has been delayed because of worries about complaints from local communities threatened with new incinerators.

Figures released by FoE also show that local authorities in the constituencies of Prime Minister Tony Blair, Environment Minister Michael Meacher and Chancellor Gordon Brown have failed to meet the target, set more than ten years ago, of recycling a quarter of their rubbish by the year 2000.

At 1.4%, Tony Blair’s Sedgefield constituency is the worst for recycling among those represented by cabinet ministers. Michael Meacher’s Oldham constituency only recycles 2.9%, while Gordon Brown’s Fife constituency recycles only 1.8%.

Recycling exceeds the average recycling rate of 8.9% in only four constituencies represented by cabinet ministers:

  • international development minister Clare Short’s constituency of Ladywood includes the greenest local authority, Birmingham council, which recycles 13.8%
  • Derby council, which falls in the Derby South constituency represented by leader of the house Margaret Beckett, recycles 13.2%
  • the local authority of Kirklees, in the Dewsbury constituency of chief whip Ann Taylor, recycles 9.9%
  • Blackburn and Darwen council, in home secretary Jack Straw’s constituency of Blackburn, recycles 9.7%

Meanwhile, backbench MPs represent the best authorities: the Isle of Wight with 41.7%; Bournemouth 37%; Castle Morpeth 36.6%; Dorset 32.7% and Poole 27.6%.

The DETR pointed out to edie that these figures were drawn up in 1997, before Michael Meacher became Environment Minister. Even if he had been, said one DETR spokesperson, the link between his role and recycling in the area could only be considered “tenuous.” The DETR said new recycling figures for councils will be released with the waste strategy.

FoE has called for the new strategy to include targets for recycling, comparable to best practice in the rest of Europe, and for some of the £45 million generated by this year’s increase in the landfill tax to be redirected to recycling services.

FoE predict the waste strategy will include:

  • a voluntary recycling target of 30% by 2010
  • promotional schemes to encourage recycling
  • an initiative to encourage recycling of junk mail
  • permits restricting the amount of rubbish councils can send to landfill

But the DETR acknowledges that even with high levels of recycling, “there will still be a need for increased incineration capacity.” The DETR also admitted that many councils are failing to meet their recycling targets. “We are encouraging them to meet those targets.The new waste strategy will set further targets for all councils to meet. But don’t forget that you can’t recycle without a market for the recyclate, so we are also working on that.”

Mike Childs, Senior Waste Campaigner at FoE, said: “Britain has to stop chucking rubbish into landfill sites but plotting to cover Britain in new incinerators is no solution. It will do considerable political damage as communities protest at the prospect of living next to burning rubbish. Instead we need clear, statutory targets for recycling. And we need money to make these targets a reality.”

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