UK waste management needs new direction

The UK needs to reduce the rate of growth of household waste to below that of GDP, boost home composting, and increase recycling to at least 45%, according to a government think-tank.

The Government’s Strategy Unit has published a report on the future of waste management in the UK. Household waste disposal is increasing 3% every year – that’s faster than inflation (see related story), and will double in volume by 2020, by then costing £3.2 billion per year. The report states that growth should be slowed to 2% per year, recycling raised to at least 45% by 2015, and reliance on landfill ended.

Each person in the UK produces seven times their own weight in waste every year, more waste per head than most other EU nations, but at the same time, we recycle less, points out Secretary of State for the Environment Margaret Beckett. “It is clear that we can’t go on simply putting more and more waste in more and more holes in the ground,” she said. “Doing nothing is the worst value-for-money option.”

The UK’s problems stem from a traditional reliance on the country’s abundance of holes from extractive industries, making landfill cheap and discouraged investment in alternatives, says the Performance Unit. Waste buried in these holes produce 25% of the UK’s methane emissions – a greenhouse gas 21 more potent in its effect on climate change than carbon dioxide. Even the Landfill Tax, which is designed to make landfilling more expensive, is currently only £13 per tonne, compared to £34 in Denmark and £45 in the Netherlands.

A lack of public awareness of the problem in the UK also sets the country at a disadvantage compared to our better-informed neighbours in Europe. This also adds to the difficulty that waste managers have in gaining planning permission for recycling centres. There is also a lack of incentives encouraging householders to recycle or reduce their waste.

The proposed strategy includes achieving a £35 per tonne target for the Landfill Tax, as outlined in the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s pre-budget statement on 27 November. The landfill tax credit scheme also needs to be reformed so that it funds waste recycling and reduction programmes, says the report.

The Prime Minister noted that the UK has done well in certain aspects of environmental protection, such as the success in cleaning rivers and beaches (see related story). However, he acknowledged that waste management is an area of weakness requiring a different approach, as detailed in the new report. “We must meet its challenge,” he said.

Labour MP for Lewisham Joan Ruddock is to introduce a new bill to Parliament early next year to ensure that every household in England has a doorstep recycling service. “People in my constituency and elsewhere want to recycle and do their bit for the environment,” she said. According to the BBC, 400 MPs are backing the bill.

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