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Wednesday, June 30, 1999 Published at 23:37 GMT 00:37 UK


Re-using and recycling

So many things could be recylced - or not bought in the first place

The clusters of black bags along the UK's roads and highways are the weekly testament to society's throw-away mentality.

Unused, unfinished and unwanted materials are routinely dispatched to finish their working lives in a black poly bag at the bottom of a wheelie bin.

From there they are picked up by the council refuse collectors, hauled away to the corporation tip and shovelled into holes in the ground.

England and Wales create 150 million tonnes of rubbish a year - some of it industrial - and about 80% of that total is buried.

[ image: Thousands of tonnes of rubbish are generated weekly]
Thousands of tonnes of rubbish are generated weekly
Huge swathes of land - which have often previously been put to industrial use - are required to stash the trash away. The HM Customs and Excise register of licensed landfill sites lists more than 100 in the Anglia region alone.

But for some time now the practice of chucking bin bags full of empty Findus Pancake boxes, carrier bags, fag ash, potato peelings, nappies and pizza cartons has been frowned upon.

Landfill tax was hailed by the government as an attempt to get local authorities to seek alternatives to bulldozing rubbish into the ground.

Levied at a rate of 2 - 7 a tonne, the charge has already generated several hundred million pounds. Environmental charities have also had access to a 167m "green pot of gold", siphoned off the total taxes raised.

[ image:  ]
The government says it would like to see more rubbish going up in smoke - and ideally the energy produced either sold or diverted to municipal needs. Currently, something like 8% of household rubbish is incinerated, and only a very small percentage of the heat produced is used.

European cities like Copenhagen are big fans of this form of waste management, with huge civic heating infrastructures in place.

But environmental pressure groups say the issue is not just how to get rid of rubbish. They would rather see less of it being created.

Anna Thomas, spokeswoman for Friends of the Earth, told BBC News Online: "Incineration and landfill are not things that we would advocate. For one, it is a waste of resources - use something once and it's gone.

"Equally as importantly, the incineration of materials contributes to the creation of greenhouse gasses, and involves taking more forests to burn already destroyed forests in the form of rubbish.

"Landfill can result in toxic substances leaking into the ground, and the creation of greenhouse gasses."

The pressure group says that instead, people should avoid buying materials they know they will only throw away - like excessive packaging - and recycling everything they can.

Peter Toombs, the Local Government Association's policy officer for waste and environmental management, told BBC News Online that the UK does not currently have the kind of infrastructure which would allow wholesale recycling to get off the ground.

Ashley Robb outlines the principles of the Community Re-Paint scheme in Leeds
He said: "People do want to be able to recycle, but the facilities to allow them to do that in a meaningful way simply do not exist.

"If you are an elderly person, or a mother with a pushchair for example, it may be extremely inconvenient to you to take a box of bottles or newspapers half a mile to the nearest recycling facility.

[ image: Disposable nappies account for 3-4% of household waste]
Disposable nappies account for 3-4% of household waste
"But at the same time that government is saying you must increase recycling, it is not providing the resources which would allow local authorities to set up an effective recycling infrastructure."

He said councils had had to divert money away from other services to meet the demands of the landfill tax.

He described the situation where local authorities do not have access to the 20% of landfill tax set aside for environmental charities as "frustrating".

And he said it is going to be increasingly important to support and promote the manufacture of recycled goods.

He said: "It is no good at all encouraging people to recycle if there is no market for the recycled goods to be channelled into."

Many innovative and imaginative schemes already exist which have the effect of preventing resources being regarded as waste and trashed.

Nappy laundering services are one example of waste-reducing enterprise which is gaining in popularity.

Disposable nappies account for 3-4% of all household waste, and contain a high proportion of raw sewage.

[ image: Recycling facilities are not always convenient to use]
Recycling facilities are not always convenient to use
Margaret Bell of Nifty Nappies in Alton, Hampshire, said: "It costs about 10 a week, which doesn't really make it any cheaper than using disposables, but the nappies are freshly laundered and delivered to the door, which is very convenient."

Everything from newspaper to car tyres can be, and are, recycled.

And charity initiatives across the country work to reclaim and recycle anything and everything they can get their hands on.

Terry Skingle: "Groups are crying out for resources"
Terry Skingle heads a project in Brent, north London, which salvages absolutely anything that businesses don't want anymore so that schools and charities can make use of it.

The Community Re-Paint scheme in Leeds passes unwanted an unused paint on to community schemes and organisations.

"There are some excellent projects in progress all around the country," said Mr Toombs.

"And there are some excellent ideas being considered by central government. What we need is the infrastructure which will make them all work together."

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