18 March 2010

Landfill bans considered for nine materials

Waste electrical and electronic equipment and garden waste are among a list of nine waste streams being considered for landfill restrictions or bans in a government consultation launched today (March 18).

The joint Defra and Welsh Assembly Government publication, entitled ‘Consultation on the Introduction of Restrictions on the Landfilling of Certain Wastes', also examines the case for placing restrictions on: paper and card; textiles; metals; wood; food waste; glass and plastics.

Options include: doing nothing and relying on current measures such as landfill tax to continue to reduce the amount we landfill; introducing bans on landfilling on their own or accompanied by a requirement for waste to be sorted; introducing a sorting or tougher pre-treatment requirement without a landfill ban; and introducing producer responsibility requirements for certain wastes.

If introduced, the restrictions are expected to have a dramatic impact on waste management practices, by boosting the separate collection, recycling and recovery of waste.

It is understood that such landfill restrictions could be introduced in around five years. However, the government stressed that it is keen to hear back from stakeholders before any decisions on timing are made. This is important because, if restrictions are introduced too early, there may not be time to develop the necessary collection, recycling and treatment infrastructure.

Defra has also indicated that at this stage, it has no preferred option with regards to which material/s will be restricted – although food waste could be a prime candidate, due to the government's vocal support for separate food waste collections and anaerobic digestion to treat the material.

Research

Environment secretary Hilary Benn visiting the Bywaters materials recycling facility this morning to see how waste can be kept out of landfill

Environment secretary Hilary Benn visiting the Bywaters materials recycling facility this morning to see how waste can be kept out of landfill

Research into how a landfill ban might work in practice in the UK was published alongside the consultation. The research was carried out by Eunomia and looked at the practicalities of implementing landfill bans in the UK (see letsrecycle.com story).

Landfill bans of biodegradable or recyclable wastes have been found to have successfully worked in many other European countries including Germany and Austria. In most cases a ban has been implemented alongside other measures such as landfill tax and other requirements such as mandatory sorting or treatment of waste. Landfill bans in other countries were implemented over a 2-12 year period.

Benn

This morning, environment secretary Hilary Benn visited the Bywaters materials recycling facility in Bow, East London, to see waste being separated for recycling.

On the visit, Mr Benn said: “This consultation shows that we are serious about tackling the huge mountain of waste that needlessly ends up in landfill. So much of what we throw away has an economic value or can be re-used, but instead we are burying it.”

“We must take action to reduce the constant demand for new materials when we can recover materials from used products – this costs less money and saves the earth's precious resources at the same time.”

The secretary of state pointed to the environmental benefits of keeping waste out of landfill and told letsrecycle.com: “You think of the material – plastic, paper, aluminium, food waste, glass, that's still going to landfill. Why would you want to do that? I think is the question, as a society, when it can come to a facility like here at Bywaters.”

He explained that it was important to look at the experience of other countries where lead-in times had ranged from two to 10 years, but stressed that the consulation would look at all the issues – from whether bans should be introduced, to how and when they should come in.

He added: “I am sure there will be a general agreement that if we can do what's happening here with materials rather than putting them into landfill, isn't that something we should, as a nation, be agreeing we're going to do.”

Enforcement

So much of what we throw away has an economic value or can be re-used, but instead we are burying it

 
Hilary Benn

It is unclear exactly how any landfill restrictions would be policed, but the Conservative Party today claimed that it would be better to incentivise the public and councils to recycle more rather than to force the issue.

Shadow Environment Secretary Nick Herbert said: “We need to divert waste from landfill and more food and farm waste should be used to generate energy, but the way to achieve that is to encourage households by rewarding them to recycle.

“Mandating slop buckets in every kitchen and fining families for putting food scraps in their bin is the typical Labour approach of stick rather than carrot.”

Councils

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents council leaders, also urged Defra not to create a situation where every householder in the country was forced to have a separate bin for their food waste – claiming that decisions should be left up to councils.

Cllr Gary Porter, chair of the LGA Environment Board, said: “Councils want to throw less rubbish in the ground because it is good for the environment and good for the council taxpayer. While councils are paying ever more to the government in landfill tax, they cannot also be expected to pay for building and running new plants to sort banned materials and process food waste.

“Defra needs to think carefully about where the money to pay for a landfill ban will come from and how the ban will be policed. Councils do not want to be put in a position where they have to fine people for putting their leftovers in the wrong bin.”

Obligation 

However, Mr Benn insisted householders would not be fined- with obligations falling on councils and businesses instead.

He said: “I want to make it easier for us all to do the right thing and I am making it very clear today that any obligation to sort waste would fall primarily on the waste collection authority and on businesses, and not the individual householder.”

Detailed proposals on the way bans and other measures will be introduced, who the onus would fall upon and the lead-in times to implement them is to be the subject of a full second-stage consultation.

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