Hundreds of tonnes of waste were sent to landfill sites
The UK produces enough rubbish to fill the Royal Albert Hall every hour and it is a "massive problem", Environment Minister Michael Meacher has said.
Responding to criticism that the UK is failing to live up to EU standards on recycling, Mr Meacher insisted the government was working hard to address the way we dispose of waste.
But he acknowledged the extent of the problem and explained ways in which the issue was being tackled.
He also held up the prospect of households being charged according to the rubbish they generated rather on the basis of a flat charge through the council tax.
"Waste is a very big problem in this country let's be absolutely clear about it," Mr Meacher told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
"We generate 400m tonnes a year - that's just about enough to fill the Albert Hall every hour and it's growing at three to 4% every year."
Double the rubbish?
He said that left unchecked, the amount of rubbish produced in Britain would double within the next 20 years.
The message from the government on waste seems to be that the Titanic is on course, it is the iceberg that must move
"Now instead of that, the UK is regulated under the EU landfill directive, so far from doubling waste going to landfill, we aim to reduce it by two thirds within the next 20 years.
"What that means is a massive shift of more than 30m tonnes a year away from landfill to alternative sources of disposal.
"That must mean recycling, composting or preferably not creating waste in the first place - but it's a massive problem."
Mr Meacher said what was needed was a complete change in culture, moving the UK away from a throwaway society to one that utilised lasting, reusable products.
He said the government's policy of increasing taxation on each tonne of waste - the landfill tax - coupled with targets for councils would help reduce the problem.
Carrot or stick?
And he suggested putting incentives in the system so individual householders would take greater responsibility for the rubbish they generated.
"For example variable charging, in other words cancelling what we pay in council tax which is a flat rate irrespective of how much waste is created.
"That gives no-one an incentive to reduce it and replacing that charge according to the amount of waste generated."
There was also legislation reducing the amount of waste accepted at landfill dumps.
"We inherited a very low level of recycling of 6% when we came to office in 1997, the lowest in the European Union.
"It's now been more than doubled to 13%."
Mr Meacher went on to outline plans to double the target by this year, and to treble it by 2005/6 so that recycling would be up to 25%.
But Liberal Democrat environment spokesman Norman Baker accused the government of "lamentably failing" to tackle the high levels of waste currently being produced.
"It has little to say about waste minimisation or encouraging producer responsibility for waste," said Mr Baker.
"Its responses on the reuse and recycling of waste is little better.
"This missed opportunity shows exactly where the government is heading.
"The message from the government on waste seems to be that the Titanic is on course, it is the iceberg that must move."