SCOTLAND: Minister announces limits on landfill and permit trading

Scotland's Transport & Environment Minister Sarah Boyack has confirmed that local authorities, and not waste companies, will be issued with permits allowing them to landfill biodegradable waste under Scotland's new waste system.

Once allocated, the permits will be tradable and Boyack hopes the system will encourage compliance with the EU Landfill Directive. With only 3.8% of Scotland’s total domestic waste currently recycled (see related story), the country faces a challenge to meet biodegradable waste targets.

Biodegradable waste going to landfill has to be reduced to 75% on 1995 levels by 2006, 50% by 2009 and 35% by 2016, under the rules of the Landfill Directive.

“We no longer have an option about this. We need a real change of direction,” Boyack told a meeting of Scottish local governments. “We need to produce less waste, recycle and compost more – we have a long way to go before we can catch up with our counterparts in Europe.”

Local authorities and environmental organisations such as Friends of the Earth (FoE) Scotland are largely happy with the Scottish Executive’s announcement. “I think waste management is beginning to come up the agenda. The Minister is doing her best,” Dr Richard Dixon, FoE Scotland’s head of research told edie.

A Scottish Executive spokesperson confirmed with edie that further consultation will take place with local councils, beginning late summer. “We have to decide on a workable system for permits and trading,” says the spokesperson. “In theory, a council could buy up permits for landfill [and not divert any of its biodegradable waste] but that’s a purely theoretical position because we’re not there yet.”

Deciding how to distribute the permits is a pressing question. The Scottish Executive’s consultation document mentioned three options, without expressing a preference:

  • auctioning permits off to the local authorities willing to pay the highest price
  • giving out permits based on current quantities landfilled, or a base year’s quantities
  • distribution based on how difficult it would be for each authority to divert biodegradable waste from landfill

Dixon believes that auctioning permits would not be wise at the outset. “My fear is that local authorities would not realise the priority of buying the permits,” he says. “Auctioning might work in the future, as a second round of distribution.”

Another outstanding question involves the gradual tightening of targets for biodegradable waste and how the number or value of permits for biodegradable waste will be reduced.

With the Scottish Executive doing its bit – although Dixon does wonder whether it will come up with sufficient funding to kickstart local authorities’ efforts – and the issue of waste management cropping up more and more often in the press, will there eventually be a backlash to the tough EU targets? “There could be a backlash from the local authorities,” speculates Dixon. “We could hear things like ‘We have to spend £5 million on waste permits and this could have been spent on schools.”

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