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Tuesday, 26 November, 2002, 18:50 GMT
UK seeks wiser way with waste
Tractor on landfill   AP
There's not much room inside: Landfills are filling up

The UK Government is publishing proposals for tackling the country's growing waste problem.

The announcement is expected in the pre-Budget statement where the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, outlines his plans for the coming year.

The proposals were prepared by the Cabinet Office's Strategy Unit, which has been working on them for a year.

Environmentalists say the UK has one of Europe's worst records on recycling.

The strategy unit offers this summary of its work: "The aim of the Waste Project is to explore a variety of policy options to allow England to meet the European Union (EU) Landfill Directive and to move to a more sustainable waste management system.

"The project is identifying the economic framework, targets, regulations and other instruments required to deliver on those options."

Prodigal discarders

Under new EU legislation the UK will have to ensure that less than a third of its waste is sent for burial in landfill sites by 2020. The figure at present is about 80%.

Even then, there will still be large amounts of waste which can neither be recycled nor sent to landfills.

Dustman with bin   BBC
Why no doorstep recycling collections?
The Environment Agency says space for landfills in south-east England could run out within seven years.

The average British household produces roughly a tonne of waste a year. About 80% of it is suitable for recycling or composting.

The UK recycles about 11% of domestic waste, compared with more than half in countries like Switzerland and Austria.

The other obvious way of disposing of waste has been to burn it in purpose-built incinerators.

European recycling and composting
Austria 64%
Belgium 52%
Germany 48%
France 14%
UK 11%

But there is fierce resistance from most communities where the government plans to build incinerators, because of suspected risks to health.

Some experts say incinerators should pose no problem if they are operated properly at sufficiently high temperatures.

Plastic phase-out

Environmental campaigners are heartened by the experience of Ireland, which took a radical step earlier this year to encourage consumers to be more responsible.

In March it introduced a tax on plastic bags, charging about 10 pence (15 cents) for each bag.

Bulldozer on tip   BBC
Recycling could relieve landfills
Before the ban, an estimated 1.2bn bags were given away free every year in Ireland. But their use has fallen by 90% since March.

Friends of the Earth thinks an important part of the solution to waste here would be a doorstep recycling collection service for every household in Britain.

The MP Joan Ruddock is to introduce a Bill in the House of Commons ensuring that such a service is provided. Nearly 400 MPs have backed the idea.

The cost of delay

The waste industry itself is concerned that the problem threatens to become increasingly hard to manage.

Peter Jones, a director of Biffa Waste Services, said: "Waste management will be in crisis in five years and cost the UK economy an additional 2bn per year.

"UK waste management is in the foothills of development. Seventy-five per cent of household, commercial and industrial waste is thrown into holes in the ground.

"This is not rocket science. If we fail to act and attain levels of recycling achieved by our European partners a decade ago, we face European fines, increased taxes and a lack of competitiveness.

"We have an opportunity to act now, and the sooner we take it the better it will be for us all."

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19 Nov 02 | Wales
12 Nov 02 | England
23 Oct 02 | Politics
21 Oct 02 | Science/Nature
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