Landfill tax has had little impact on recycling trends, says report

The landfill tax has a “limited role” in encouraging people to recycle and compost with 25% of local authorities likely to miss their statutory recycling targets in 2005/6, according to the DEFRA commissioned Review of the UK Landfill Tax.

Under the Landfill Directive the UK must reduce waste going to landfill from 85% to 35% by 2016 in order to avoid penalties, the UK landfill tax is “largely irrelevant” in helping to meet these targets, says the report. Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) recycling and composting rates need to increase by 33% to achieve the Landfill Directive target by 2015. Commercial and industrial (C&I) waste going to landfill is unlikely to fall under 85% of the 1998 levels by 2005, as is required under the Packaging Waste directive, predicts the review.

The review comments on the inadequate incentives in place to encourage recycling at local authority level – the landfill tax and the European Directive, both designed to discourage waste to landfill. However, the financial cost of recycling still poses a problem for these authorities.

Given that Enviros Aspinwall and Eunomia Research & Consulting, conductors of the research, found that one quarter of local authorities will miss the 2005/6 targets, they concluded that the current approach to recycling and composting is not working.

This official government report concludes that a change in the present landfill tax is “desirable” and encourages a more “progressive” approach to be taken towards waste strategies, giving local authorities incentives to look beyond short-term targets and develop “cautious innovative” trends in waste management in the right direction. It also states a change in this tax will accelerate the rate at which UK authorities change waste management priorities.

Changes the review recommends:

  • differentiation between landfill tax rates for MSW and C&I, with the C&I waste tax being less than that for MSW because the “elasticity of demand for landfill from C&I wastes is likely to be greater than that for MSW”;
  • a tax rate of £15-£20 over and above the currently planned tax rate changes – with the expectation that this will lead to a considerable increase in recycling across 50% of authorities;
  • any change in tax rates must be a single change and have a long pre announcement and will therefore receive more support from authorities; and
  • that the increased tax burden is revenue neutral through increased funds which will compensate for the increase in the cost of recycling and in the increased cost of residual waste disposal to landfill.

The landfill tax scheme is due for government review in 2004.

The report, which is not available on the DEFRA website was obtained by Friends of the Earth after they claimed they reminded DEFRA of its legal obligation to release it. FOE have called on the government to provide local authorities with the money to improve recycling services.

“This report shows that the Government is making a mess of recycling,” said Mike Childs, senior campaigner at FOE.

DEFRA defended their position to edie saying that the report was “designed to generate ideas for combating waste and improving recycling, to look at what we are doing now and how we could do it differently or better”. They said the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit is presently reviewing the UK waste strategy and a report is due to be released in September.

Story by Sorcha Clifford

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