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Rubbish
Monday June 26 2000
Reporter Vivien White
Producer Kiran Soni
Assistant Producer John Sutcliffe

Household rubbish - a problem we've traditionally buried. Over 20 million tonnes a year dumped, covered up and left to rot away in landfill sites. But we can't go on burying the problem.

Scroll down for related links

Britain has signed up to a European law restricting the dumping of waste and forcing us to find other ways to dispose of millions of tonnes of biodegradable rubbish. Are we ready for a rubbish revolution?

Essex produces enough domestic rubbish a year, 650,000 tonnes, to fill Wembley to a depth of 200 feet.

Essex County Council is trying to get ahead of the game. It's carrying out three trials of intensive household rubbish recycling - at a cost of over 4 million pounds. The aim: to change people's habits and get them separating their rubbish into five different waste streams.

But in one of the trial areas, Templars Estate in Witham, Doreen Hutton says what she does with her rubbish is nobody's business: "I don't get paid for sorting it out do I? They give me rubbish bags to put my rubbish in. End of story."

Mersea Island
Mersea Island
Even in the recycling haven of Mersea Island, Essex - where the recycling rate is over three times the national average - local binman Russell Hannon thinks the experiment is doomed to fail: "You can't change the way people are. Basically they're just lazy, idle."

But the European Commission's Head of Waste Management, Ludwig Kraemer, says its time for Britain to change its ways: "In the United Kingdom as far as I can see, whatever you do, how much rubbish you produce, it's taken away and you don't suffer any disadvantage if you produce more rubbish. I think this is wrong."

You don't get ahead if you just rely on the good will of people - You need to find some leverage in order to compel them

Ludwig Kraemer
Ludwig Kraemer tells Panorama if we don't change our ways and recycle our household rubbish voluntarily, then further steps are called for. He says "It's the carrot and stick issue, if people behave properly they will get some reward, if they don't they will be capable of being called to order. You don't get ahead if you just rely on the good will of people. You need to find some leverage in order to compel them."

There's no easy option because if we don't recycle the alternative on offer is highly controversial: incineration - what the industry prefers to call energy from waste. The man in charge of Essex's trials, David Tuthill, admits that having an incineration plant is the neighbourhood is "about as popular as a nuclear power station."

Byker incinerator in Newcastle - unpopular with local residents
Byker incinerator in Newcastle - unpopular with local residents
For Ludwig Kraemer at the European Commission, incinerators make a nonsense of policies to encourage recycling: "An incinerator needs food for about 20 to 30 years in order to be economic. So you stifle alternatives just in order to feed that monster you built."

But for Councils like Essex to meet the Government's future recycling targets could mean hitting hard the pockets of local taxpayers: "I think we can be talking about costs maybe double what they currently are", says David Tuthill.

Related links:

Energy from Waste Homepage

UK Department of the Environment

Waste Watch

Friends of the Earth

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Rubbish
The amount of rubbish that UK households produce is growing at 3% a year
Rubbish
Vivien White looks at European attitudes towards recycling

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