By Jeremy Cooke
Rural affairs correspondent, BBC News
Jeremy Cooke explains how waste is turned into compost from the new plant in Bury
Standing in a huge hole in the ground which is slowly being filled with thousands of tonnes of stinking rubbish it's easy to see why landfill gets a bad press.
The site in Bury is one of dozens across the country - it is a giant sand quarry with a void in the middle which feels the size of a football stadium.
And all day, every day that void is being filled by a fleet of heavy lorries which dump rubbish into the path of a bulldozer which compacts it down to make way for the next load - 600,000 tonnes a year.
Landfill has never been pretty. But it has for decades been an effective way of dealing with waste. It is true that we are - as a nation - getting better. But the UK still dumps over half of its waste into landfill, compared with EU neighbours like Germany where the figure is about 1%.
We want to divert waste away from landfill and get as much value as we can from the waste we receive
David Taylor, Greater Manchester Waste Disposal Agency
The Environment Secretary, Hilary Benn, says it is time for a radical rethink: "We can't keep producing large amounts of rubbish and putting it in holes in the ground... it's producing greenhouse gases which are contributing to a problem we have to solve, we are throwing away things that have a value.
"We've been living in a 50-year bubble in which we thought we could throw away things without regard to the consequences. It's got to change."
There are already tough European rules - and fines - designed to dramatically cut the use of landfill. But now the government is calling together local authorities to tell them they must do more.
At a "waste summit" in London, Mr Benn will tell council leaders they' have done well to increase recycling from 8% to 37% in the past 12 years, but that another "big step" is needed.
Latest government figures say we in UK send more than half our waste to landfill. That is a huge 62 million tonnes a year in England alone. Now the aim is to reduce landfill by at least 50% over the next 10 years.
More than half the waste in the UK is sent to landfill
If the UK is going to achieve its new "mission statement" of becoming a "zero waste nation" it will need to see more investment on the scale adopted by the Greater Manchester Waste Disposal Agency.
It is ploughing an estimated £4.5bn into waste management over the next 25 years. The money is being used to build and run huge a variety of projects including composters for garden and food waste, anaerobic digesters to create energy from rubbish and huge recycling schemes.
The director of contract services, David Taylor, says it represents good value for money.
"We want to divert waste away from landfill and get as much value as we can from the waste we receive. That's being achieved through composting, recycling and through treatment of the residual waste," he says.
"We have a simple choice: we can do nothing but that will cost people considerably more that what it has cost to develop all these facilities."
But big recycling projects often rely on the goodwill and participation of individual households.
In Oldham for instance, rubbish has to be sorted into four separate bins, each of them colour coded: The black ones are for general waste, the big brown ones for plastic, glass and cans, the large green bins are for garden waste and the bucket-sized green ones are for food waste.
The government targets demand massive investment in recycling plants, composting facilities, anaerobic digesters and new-generation incinerators.
Margaret Eaton is chair of the local government association. She says big spending on waste management may be beyond some increasingly cash-strapped councils.
"The targets for 2013 and 2020 will be very difficult to achieve without better investment in recycling opportunities and facilities. It's easy to say spend more money. But Council tax is already stretched to the limit," she says.
"We need support and help from government through the tax they are already removing from local authorities. Local Authorities need that money back to invest in the system of recycling."
To achieve the government's aim of becoming a "zero waste nation" will demand a change of mindset -- rubbish needs to regarded as valuable resource rather than an expensive problem.
But observers say that ultimate success will mean waging a war on rubbish on all fronts - not just recycling but reducing the amount that we all throw away in the first place.
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