Waste trading scheme fuels incineration fears

The Government's recently launched waste trading scheme could lead to a huge increase in the incineration of rubbish rather than an increase in recycling, campaigners have warned.

The Landfill Allowance Trading Scheme (LATS) is one of the government’s key measures to reduce the amount of biodegradeable waste – such as paper, food and garden waste – going to landfill. The aim is to reduce this to 35% of the amount landfilled in 1995 by 2020 in order to meet obligations under the EU Landfill Directive.

Landfilling biodegradeable waste can cause such problems as leachate production and the release of methane, a potent greenhouse gas and major contributor to global warming.

The trading scheme works through the use of allowances. Local authorities have been set fixed limits, or allowances, on the amount of waste they can dispose of in landfill. These allowances are tradeable, so authorities can buy more allowances if they expect to landfill more than is permitted by the number of allowances they hold. Similarly, they can sell surplus allowances if they have low landfill rates, or bank them for future use.

An online LATS register will record all allowances allocated to each waste disposal authority and facilitate the banking, borrowing and trading. It will be managed by the Environment Agency.

Disposal authorities will be fined £150 for every tonne of waste that exceeds their allowance limit.

Environment Minister Elliot Morley said the scheme offered an innovative and flexible approach and moved away from a regulatory system of inflexible targets.

“The scheme will not only help to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill, but will encourage local authorities to promote waste minimisation and to use positive methods of waste management such as re-use, composting, recycling and energy recovery,” he said.

However, it is precisely the issue of energy recovery that has so inflamed environment groups. Friends of the Earth has said the new scheme will simply see waste being burned rather than buried and will do little to encourage waste minimisation.

Claire Wilton, Senior Waste Campaigner at FoE told edie news that, as the drive away from landfill was so strong, local authorities would be looking for large scale solutions to the waste problem. As incineration was so much cheaper in the short term to set up, it is likely to be the favoured option.

“Many local authorities see recycling as hard to set up and a high-cost, long-term investment,” she said. “There are not the same financial disincentives for incineration.”

Friends of the Earth is calling for greater incentives to make recycling cheaper than incineration as it is a far preferable environmental option. The group says recycling conserves natural resources by re-using materials rather than harvesting or mining new ones, that it saves far more energy than can be recovered through incineration, and creates more jobs than either landfill or incineration.

In addition, a government report in 2004 showed that, in terms of negative environmental cost, landfill and incineration were about the same.

“We urgently need to drive waste away from landfill, but not into the arms of incinerator operators. The public wants to recycle, not burn rubbish. The Government must remove the financial incentive to incinerate rubbish and introduce higher national recycling targets,” Ms Wilton added.

In the government’s mind, however, market based solutions are always preferable: “Experience from other trading schemes show that they work by helping to secure cost-effective solutions to meeting targets,” Mr Morley concluded.

By David Hopkins

Environment Agency

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