UK needs to get tougher on landfill if it is to compete

The UK has been singled out for its success in "drastically reducing" the amount of municipal waste sent landfill over the past decade - but it still lags behind Europe's best performers.

A European Commission (EC) report found that between 2002 and 2009, the UK cut the amount of waste going to landfill from 464kg per capita to 259kg.

Despite this, it remains well behind countries such as Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Austria and Sweden who all landfilled less than 3% of their municipal waste in 2010, compared to the UK’s 48%.

According to the EC, the UK needs to adopt a tougher combination of economic instruments – not just landfill tax, but incineration levies and bans, as well as more effective producer responsibility and pay-as-you-throw schemes to compete effectively on this front.

However the UK is performing considerably better than nine other member states. Bulgaria, Romania, Latvia, Lithuania, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Greece and Malta still send more than 75% of waste to landfill.

Meanwhile France sends 31%, Italy 51% and Spain 58%. According to Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik lower performing countries have much to learn from those leading the way.

He said: “Six member states now combine virtually zero landfilling and high recycling rates. Not only do they exploit the value of the waste, they have created thriving industries … by making prevention, reuse and recycling more economically attractive through a selection of economic instruments.”

The EC is encouraging member states to implement existing waste legislation more effectively and in 2014 will publish a review of progress towards EU waste targets and an assessment of whether further initiatives in this area – such as legally binding targets – are necessary.

Maxine Perella

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