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The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"We are running out of space"
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The BBC's Karen Bowerman
"70% of household waste could be recycled"
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Environment Minister, Michael Meacher
"Local authorities will have to start... doorstep collection"
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Thursday, 25 May, 2000, 17:06 GMT 18:06 UK
Recycling levels 'pathetic' - Meacher
People at recycling bins
People will be encouraged to recycle more
Environment Minister Michael Meacher has described the UK's level of waste recycling as "pathetically low" and promised action to increase it.

Mr Meacher said new government targets must increase the amount of recycling in England and Wales to 30% by 2010.

Aside from the health risks, there's the smell, the noise, the traffic - great, big, monstrous lorries bring the rubbish in

Val Barton

But environmentalists fear that the government's plans to incinerate more waste - as space for landfills runs out - will create more air pollution.

Mr Meacher also insisted the amount of waste produced in the first place must drop.

Outlining his policies, the minister said statutory targets for recycling by local authorities would double.

He told the BBC: "Recycling is at a pathetically low level of about 9% at the current time and we intend to double that in three years.

"To achieve these targets local authorities will have to start or step up doorstep collection of recyclable waste."

Risks 'exaggerated'

Turning to plans to build more incinerators, Mr Meacher downplayed any potential effects on health from cancer-causing dioxins being released into the air.

Michael Meacher
Michael Meacher: Call for less household waste

He said: "The health risks are enormously exaggerated.

"Incinerators are now operated to hugely tightened emissions standards as a result of an EU directive which came in in November 1996.

"That requires dioxin emissions to be one part per billion."

Val Barton, of the Campaign Against the Incineration of Rubbish, lives under the smokestack of the Byker Incinerator in Newcastle upon Tyne.

Ash from the incinerator was used in paths and alloments around the city from 1994 to 1999.

Samples taken from the paths showed levels of dioxins and heavy metals - feared as cancer-causing by-products of waste incineration - 800 times above safety guidelines.

"Aside from the health risks, there's the smell, the noise, the traffic - great, big, monstrous lorries bring the rubbish in and take the ash out to the landfills.

"The window ledges are filthy and there's a lot of asthma about," Mrs Barton said.

"We've got to get our heads around recycling so there is next to nothing to burn in these incinerators."

Going underground

Detailing how the move from landfills would work, Mr Meacher said taxes would increase for landfill use while excess packaging would be tackled by new regulations.

He said landfill use would have to drop from 85% of rubbish to 35% by 2016.

Households in England and Wales produce 27m tonnes of rubbish a year and more than 90% in some areas is buried underground in landfill sites.

Liberal Democrat environment spokesman Don Foster said the government should use the tax system to penalise burying waste and excess packaging.

He also warned against increased incineration, citing a leaked US Environmental Protection Agency report as evidence of the dangers.

Conservative environment spokesman Damian Green said his party would impose a ban on the construction of new incinerators until independent scientific evidence proved they were safe.

Lagging behind Europe

The European Commission has warned that landfill sites could eventually rise up and pollute the land above.

The UK lags behind nearly every other developed country in its record on recycling.

Only 27% of glass is recycled whereas Germany manages 80% - nearly three times as much.

Mr Meacher says businesses can actually make money from their rubbish and so increase their profits.

But Ian Goodfellow of waste disposal company SITA has warned that recycling will not get rid of everything.

"'We will recycle more," he said, "But we cannot recycle everything that we produce and some inevitably will have to be incinerated."

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See also:

25 May 00 | Sci/Tech
What a waste of good rubbish
25 May 00 | UK
It's a dirty job...
01 Jul 99 | UK
Re-using and recycling
01 Mar 00 | Health
Recycling health warning
30 Jun 99 | UK
New plans for old waste
29 Jul 98 | UK
A nation of landfills
09 Jun 98 | UK
Recycle or pay up plan
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