UK still top of the rubbish heap

The UK is the "dustbin of Europe" and dumps more household waste into landfill than any other EU country, the Local Government Association has said.

More than 22.6m tonnes of UK rubbish was buried in landfill in 2005 – the same amount of rubbish as the 18 EU countries with the lowest landfill rates combined, although together they have almost twice the population of the UK.

An area the size of Warwick is now believed to be taken up by landfill and council leaders warned that the country is expected to run out of landfill space in less than nine years’ time.

The association said the amount of rubbish Britain throws into landfill has declined markedly since 2004, but other European countries have also slashed the amount they bury leaving the UK at the top of the rubbish heap.

Local government leaders called for bold reforms to increase recycling rates and warned the country could fail to meet the EU Landfill Directive, leaving councils facing fines of up to £150 per tonne of landfill.

Councillor Paul Bettison, chairman of the LGA Environment Board, said: “There needs to be an urgent and radical overhaul of the way in which rubbish is thrown away.

“Local people, businesses and councils all have a vital role to play to protect our countryside before it becomes buried in a mountain of rubbish.”

He said councils need powers to introduce what they believe are the best policies to reduce residual waste in their area, including the possibility of charging households for extra rubbish.

He added: “If councils introduce save-as-you-throw schemes, it will be to promote recycling, not to generate extra cash through an extra stealth tax.”

The figures for 2005 – the most recent comparable year – show the UK was the worst performing country, followed by Italy, which landfilled 17.6m tonnes, Spain with 14.2m tonnes and France with 12m tonnes.

Of the 27 countries included in the figures, 11 sent less than one million tonnes of household waste to landfill.

Kate Martin

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