The LATS myth

Environment minister Elliot Morley responds to last month's editorial criticising the Landfill Allowances Trading Scheme

Recent debate over the Landfill Allowances Trading Scheme has centred on two issues: that councils will turn to incineration to meet landfill diversion targets and that poor performing councils, often socially deprived councils, will be especially penalised by the scheme. This is simply not the case.

The diversion of biodegradable municipal waste from landfill sites is currently a key priority for local authorities, waste management companies and government.
By 2010, biodegradable municipal waste going to landfill must be 75% of the amount produced in 1995; by 2013 this is reduced to 50% and by 2020 to 35%. Diversion from landfill can only be achieved when local authorities use sustainable waste management alternatives. The Waste Strategy 2000 outlines the waste hierarchy and focuses on policies which increase waste minimisation, re-use, recycling and composting over and above incineration. Government has a wide range of policies designed to encourage these more sustainable waste management options.

Progress is being made

Strong progress is being made on recycling and composting – new figures show that England is poised to meet its national recycling and composting target of 17% for 2003/04 and that meeting the targets for 2005/06 is challenging but achievable. DEFRA is currently reviewing these targets and will consult on proposals later in the year.

Government nonetheless acknowledges that incineration with energy recovery is a sustainable waste management option, although priority must be given to waste minimisation, re-use and recycling. In particular, energy-from-waste incineration is a legitimate option for dealing with residual waste left over after achieving much higher levels of recycling and re-use.

Ultimately, waste disposal authorities must make their choice and may decide that energy-from-waste is the preferable option for disposal of residual municipal waste. Importantly, it should be noted that the experience of other European countries has shown that a significant level of incineration is not inconsistent with high recycling rates.

In 2003, Denmark incinerated 54% of its municipal waste while recycling 41%. A similar story can be found in France where recycling in 2003 was at 28% alongside a 34% level of incineration. I expect local authorities to take their
responsibilities to recycle and compost more waste seriously. I will be personally engaging with councils that have shown no improvement or no commitment to improve recycling and composting rates. Rates in single figures are no longer acceptable and I will be asking poor performers to demonstrate evidence that they are taking recycling seriously.

Terrific gains

In assessing performance in inner city boroughs, for example, it is important that the progress some have made is not overlooked or under-valued. There have been some terrific gains in cities and boroughs which have in the past struggled to boost local rates. Camden in London is recycling and composting 19% of its waste, Newcastle boosted its recycling and composting by 6% in 2003/04 to meet their 10% target and Manchester and Southwark Councils have just signed significant PFI deals that will boost their recycling and composting rates over and above their targets.
The targets under the Landfill Directive are challenging, but with strong strategic management and political will they are achievable. The key advantage of the Landfill Allowance Trading Scheme is that it will help authorities to plan for the longer term and to be flexible in their approach to sustainable waste management.
Through the flexibility of trading, banking and borrowing, authorities can find the most cost-effective means of meeting their targets, tailored to their specific waste strategies and circumstances.

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