Research Project

Time to Waste: Tackling the landfill challenge
8 May, 2008

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New report confirms pitfalls of charging for rubbish – but urges bravery on energy from waste. The report:

  • Highlights drastic figures that show most rubbish in the UK is still not recycled;
  • Recommends a major increase of energy-from-waste incineration as best way to stave off landfill crisis;
  • Believes the looming landfill tax burden must force a rethink to protect the council tax payer;
  • Suggests Government should use community-based, rather financial incentives to encourage recycling, rather than household rewards and charging;

Time to Waste confirms that Government plans to scrap charging for rubbish would be a wise move, but warns that other tough decisions have to be made if the UK is to reduce the amount of waste it throws out and avoid hefty landfill burdens on council tax payers.

Citing research that currently only 31% of all household rubbish thrown out in Britain is recycled – one of the worst rates in Europe – the New Local Government Network (NLGN) has called for councils to introduce financial incentives for people to reduce the amount of waste they produce, instead of threatening them with fines. Under the alternative plan, neighbourhoods would be rewarded for reducing their waste output and increasing the amount they recycling with grants that they can spend on their local community. The money could be spent on items such as better street lighting or children’s equipment for a local park.

The report concludes that “introducing penalising charges for waste will not assist in the amount of rubbish society throws away” and highlights concerns that “charging for rubbish would be unpopular, difficult to administer and could increase fly-tipping”.

However, the report argues for bravery on new alternatives to deal with the waste challenge, in particular the need to radically increase carbon-friendly energy-from-waste incineration. The report acknowledges that energy-from-waste incineration plants can provoke instinctive unpopularity in some local communities and therefore recommends returning some of the financial benefits from energy sold back to the grid to neighbouring residents, perhaps offering a £50 discount on the energy bills of households within those areas that agree to host the new plants. The report suggests that to meet the EU target to reduce the amount of land-filled waste, 10 large-scale or 200 smaller scale plants may have to be built.

Britain currently produces around 330 million tonnes of waste each year and disposes of the majority of it into landfill. Figures show that that Britain sends 7 million tonnes more rubbish than any other European country. It is estimated that the country will run out of landfill space in around nine years, with London and the South East due to run out in four years. The NLGN report therefore argues that the Government should shift its emphasis onto creating energy-from-waste through a new generation of incineration plants.

It also argues that councils could do more to inform the public about the need to reduce the amount of waste they throw out, such as publishing how much waste it disposes of each year and how much is recycled, alongside indicating waste charges separately on council tax bills to highlight how much the council spends on it.

The report is supported by Serco and United Utilities.

NLGN Director Chris Leslie said:

“With landfill tax increasing year on year and some authorities spending millions of pounds dealing with the problem of rubbish disposal, it is clear that the Government has to adopt a new approach to this challenge. None of the options we looked at are simple but switching away from buying rubbish to creating energy from waste is the greenest, most efficient solution”.

“We also want to see households given a positive incentive to reduce the amount of rubbish they throw away, rather than being persecuted by individual fines. By offering local communities financial incentives, residents would be able to benefit their locality as well as the wider environment”.

Mike Boult, Managing Director of Serco, said:

“There will come a point where the cost of waste disposal will become so high that it will make energy from waste profitable. There is a perception in the private sector that the financial benefits will, in the long-term, enable you to get cheaper electricity…and if the council is saving on waste disposal, it could translate into council tax reductions”.

Publication Date: 8 May 2008
ISBN: 1 903 447 68 2
Authored by: Giorgia Iacopini