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Thursday, 11 July, 2002, 14:54 GMT 15:54 UK
Tackling Britain's 'waste mountain'
Household waste
Only 12% of waste is recycled in England
As a proposal to charge UK householders to have their rubbish removed is considered, BBC News Online's Margaret Ryan reports on how Britain lags far behind its European counterparts when it comes to recycling.

On any collection day black rubbish bags full of recyclable material line the streets of Britain.

But instead of being reused, the majority of the waste ends up being sent to landfill sites.

With stringent EU directives on recycling to be met, it is clear that something has to be done fast.

Recycling is made easy for people [in other countries] because there are kerbside collections

Dagmar Schmidt
Waste Watch

Households in England and Wales produced 25m tonnes of waste in 2000/01.

But only 12% of household waste in England is recycled or composted, according to the government's own figures.

In stark contrast in Switzerland more than half of all household waste is recycled, while in Germany the figure is at least 48 %.

But the countries with the most exemplary recycling records have something in common - they combine kerbside collections with penalties for not recycling household waste.

Heavy penalties

If you live in Geneva, in Switzerland, and put recyclable material, like paper or glass, in your rubbish, you would be fined about 100 Swiss francs (35).

And in Germany, rubbish disposal is expensive whether paying per bag or per individual wheelie bins.

Recycling rates
Switzerland 52%
Austria 49.7%
Germany 48 %
Netherlands 46%
Norway 40%
Sweden 34%
USA 31.5%
England 12%
Wales 7.9%

Dagmar Schmidt, of the UK charity Waste Watch, which encourages recycling, said there was a common element to the various schemes run by local authorities in countries with good recycling rates.

"Recycling is made easy for people because there are kerbside collections," she said.

This meant that the idea of charging those who chose not to use the recycling facilities was easier to swallow.

"But in the UK people on the whole do not have kerbside collections that work," she added.

Fly-tipping fears

She argues that to guarantee a charging scheme would help encourage recycling, local authorities had to provide easy ways to get rid of waste - the alternative would be more fly-tipping.

But she is optimistic the situation could be turned around quickly once schemes were in place.

In Australia the amount of household waste recycled was negligable until the 1990s when kerbside recycling collections were introduced.

But within eight years of their introduction, 59% of waste was being recycled.

And in Flanders, Belgium, the amount of waste recycled increased from 18% to 59% in just seven years through kerbside collection, Ms Schmidt said.

Nearly half of homes in the UK do have access to kerbside collections, according to government statistics.

Pilot project

Hillingdon Council, in west London, is one authority which has introduced a fortnightly kerbside recycling scheme.

Phased in to 80,000 households since 1998, it is to roll out to a further 20,000 homes by next year.

Household waste
It is growing by 3% a year in England and Wales
43% of households are now served by 'kerbside' collection schemes
Nine out of 10 people would recycle more waste if it was made easier
About 500 kg or half a tonne of household waste per person was collected in 2000/01
Source: Defra

Under the scheme, paper, cardboard, cans and plastic bottles can be put in clear bags for doorstep collections.

A spokeswoman said there were no statistics yet on the scheme's success, but early indications were that take-up of the service was gradually improving.

The council was already exceeding national targets for recycling, she added.

Future initiatives, such as kerbside green waste (garden waste) collection, were being planned from next year subject to government funding.

The charity Friends of the Earth wants a new law for mandatory doorstep recycling to ensure such schemes are replicated.

Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett said earlier this year: "We need all councils in England to do what they can to provide the public with easy-to-find and easy-to-use recycling facilities.

"It is already happening in many parts of the country - it needs to happen in every borough".

But there is undoubtedly a long way to go if ministers are to succeed in meeting EU directives to recycle 25% of household rubbish by 2005, rising to at least 33% by 2015.

See also:

11 Jul 02 | UK Politics
04 Mar 02 | Europe
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