Meacher backs boost for incineration in effort to reduce waste mountain

The enormous scale of the waste disposal problem facing the UK - with the 27 million tonnes of household refuse currently produced each year in England and Wales set to double in 20 years - has persuaded the Government to back every option in the recycling and recovery locker.

Most controversial of a package of measures presented by Environment Minister Michael Meacher in the new draft waste strategy, A Way with Waste, is the possibility that up to 130 new incinerators, averaging 200,000 tonnes annual capacity, may have to be built.

These plants could be needed to meet obligations under the new EU Landfill Directive, based on the target proposed in the draft strategy for one third of household waste in England and Wales to be recycled by 2015.

At that level, modelling suggests that about 8-26 million tonnes of incineration capacity might be needed.

Main goals of the waste strategy are the recovery of 45% of municipal waste by 2010, employing recycling, composting and incineration with energy/heat recovery; with recycling or composting of 30% of household waste by 2010.

Industry and commerce, which now produce between 70-100 million tonnes of waste a year, will also have to play their part. The target here is, by 2005, to reduce the amount landfilled to 85% of 1998 levels.

“Beyond 2010 we must do more,” says Mr Meacher. “By 2015 we expect to recover value from two thirds of household waste, half of this by recycling or composting.”

The Government acknowledges that the 25% target for recycling household waste set by the previous administration has fallen far short, but Michael Meacher claims the new goals are achievable, if “extremely ambitious”. He is relying on a range of mechanisms and strategies and says “we have to get the mix right.”

The Minister says that a recycling rate of 3-5% achieved in some local authorities is “not acceptable”. The draft says that the Government will press local authorities to develop their waste management strategies, and, if necessary, take powers to require them to do so. The DETR will also work with LAs to “develop innovative approaches to stem the growth in household waste.”

One possible option which appears to have been sidelined, but not “dropped”, is the possibility of variable charging on household waste, a concept which the Minister floated at the 1998 IWM Conference. One waste collection problem with this policy is “waste tourism”, Mr Meacher says, where “the night before you suddenly find the waste is transported out of the area and someone else has to pick up the tab.” However, if a local authority wanted to run a pilot variable charging scheme is would be considered.

A key area to tackle the household waste mountain, increasing by 3% a year, is increasing the rate of recycling.

“We need stronger markets for recyclate,” according to the Environment Minister. The Government’s Market Development Group has produced a report with recommendations to boost recycling. This is published for comment alongside the draft strategy. One potential new use for recyclate, for example, is the incorporation of glass filler in asphalt roads.

Recommendations include action to stabilise the markets and reduce price volatility, including mechanism for price guarantees, the adoption of long term contracts rather than spot prices, and a possible futures market.

Generally, the draft waste strategy has found favour, with the IWM welcoming, in particular, the Government’s adoption of an integrated approach within the strategy, “realising that no single option is the panacea.”

The ESA is pleased that the DETR “is now also looking at end of pipe solutions by investigating ideas about how we can create new markets for recycled materials.”

Chris Davey, Chair of LARAC, is “delighted that the DETR is looking towards the future and tackling problems at source.” He adds that the new recycling targets could be achieved with the right legislative and planning support, but warns that LAs would need more guarantees that they will not be forced to collect materials that are not recyclable.

Friends of the Earth, however, attacked the proposals to build “as many as 130 new incinerators by 2015 – whilst only recycling 33% of waste compared to the 40 plus % achieved in other European countries.”

A full report on the draft waste strategy, with responses, will appear in the August issue of LAWE.

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