Page last updated at 11:38 GMT, Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Rubbish charge pilots to go ahead

Rubbish bins
The UK has traditionally 'poured its rubbish into holes in the ground'

English councils are to be allowed to pilot plans to charge households according to rubbish they throw out.

A full roll-out of the pay-as-you-throw charge was dropped last week, apparently after opposition from No 10.

But powers to pilot the charges are in the Climate Change Bill, leading to Tory claims it had been "slipped out".

It comes as MPs warn the UK could face fines of up to 180m a year from the European Commission if it does not cut the amount of waste dumped in landfill.

What we should be doing is increasing recycling. We can do that without doing it through a bin tax
Eric Pickles
Shadow communities secretary

The Department for the Environment has said the controversial pay-as-you-throw charges could help reduce this.

Plans outlined earlier this year would be for households to get an annual discount of up to 50 or extra charges of up to 50 depending on rubbish not recycled.

Any rubbish charges would have to be revenue neutral overall - the total amount of money charged by councils would not be able to be increased.

'Slipped out'

And it was suggested that the number of people living in a property would be taken into account.

Gordon Brown's official spokesman said the places where pilots would take place had not yet been decided, with councils to be asked to come forward with their proposals.

There have been concerns they will prove unpopular and hit larger, poor families.

Shadow communities secretary Eric Pickles said: "What we should be doing is increasing recycling. We can do that without doing it through a bin tax."

Graphic showing average composition of household bin

He said the scheme would lead to a surge in fly-tipping, people dumping their waste in neighbours' gardens and more back garden bonfires.

And shadow communities minister Alistair Burt, added: "This is a policy, remember, which was on the cards last week, then stopped by the prime minister at the end of the week, now back on again. Not launched as they intended to launch it but slipped out through the back end of the Climate Change Bill."

But waste minister Joan Ruddock dismissed Conservative accusations that the government was confused.

"We all know we can't go on putting rubbish in holes in the ground. We need to find new ways and these sorts of schemes and incentives may be part of that," she said.

"And frankly trying to make mischief about when was this decision made, when was this decision taken, has there been a delay? No, we had to do work."

Meanwhile, the Commons public accounts committee has claimed ministers have been too slow to react to a 1999 EU directive on waste.

It says there is a "significant risk" that new composting plants and rubbish incinerators will not be up and running in time to meet its targets.

Under the EU directive, the UK must reduce the amount of biodegradable waste going into landfill from the 18.1m tonnes dumped in 2003/4 to 13.7m tonnes in 2010, 9.2m in 2013 and 6.3m in 2020.


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Householders needed to recycle and compost more of their rubbish, they said, and new energy had to be produced from waste power plants capable of processing up to 15m tonnes each year.

However, MPs conceded the development of waste plants tended to be "unpopular" with the public and met with large scale opposition.

The amount of biodegradable waste dumped in English landfill sites was cut by 2.3m tonnes to 12.4m tonnes between 2003/4 and 2005/6.

Defra said England was making "good progress" on reducing landfill waste.

"We are close to meeting our 2010 targets and working hard to ensure we meet the 2013 and 2020 targets too," a spokesman said.

"These are challenging and we are not complacent, but we should not knock the progress we have made."

Recycling 'confusing'

Some 3% of the UK's climate change emissions come from methane in landfill, generated by biodegradable waste like food, vegetation and paper.

The MPs noted that 57% of the public "are already committed recyclers but householders can find it confusing to determine what items should be put in each bin".

Committee chairman Edward Leigh said: "The UK has traditionally got rid of its rubbish by pouring large quantities of it into holes in the ground."

But he said after the 1999 EU Directive on landfill, Defra had done "little else" than publish four vague consultation papers and strategies.

"If the UK misses these targets, taxpayers will have to stump up the money to pay a huge fine to the European Commission," he said.

"The department must now take the tough decisions and practical steps needed to promote large-scale recycling."

UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom said: "Once again the taxpayer will have to put their hand in their pocket to pay for political incompetence."


EU biodegradable municipal waste maximums

Country 2003-4 actual amount (m tonnes) Landfill max 2010 Landfill max 2013 Landfill max2020
England 14.7 11.2 7.5 5.2
Scotland 1.8 1.3 0.9 0.6
Wales 0.9 0.7 0.5 0.3
N Ireland 0.7 0.5 0.3 0.2
Total 18.1 13.7 9.2 6.3

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