Council taxpayers face £3 billion landfill fines

September 3, 2008 at 2:03 pm

Despite a recently reported rise in recycling rates, local councils will face fines of up to £3 billion for waste sent to landfill – a bill ultimately paid by council taxpayers.

Surprisingly, Environment Minister Joan Ruddock seemed pleased with the latest municipal waste statistics, covering the period from October to December 2007, saying,

“Local authorities and their residents are making good progress. We still have some way to go before we are performing at the level of some of our nearest neighbours in Europe. But we are catching them up, and positive feedback like this should encourage all of us to keep up the effort to reduce and recycle our rubbish.”

A closer look at the figures shows that the “good progress” includes a reduction in household waste from 25.8m to 25.6m tonnes – a drop of just 0.8 per cent. And although household recycling went up by 3 points to 33.9 per cent, this means that around two-thirds of our rubbish still ends up in landfill.

Responding to the statistics in rather less glowing terms, Councillor Paul Bettison from the Local Government Association said,

“Britain is the dustbin of Europe and dumps more waste into the ground than any other country in the EU. This is costing the council taxpayer dearly in landfill taxes. Councils are still facing fines of up to £3 billion if we do not dramatically reduce the amount of waste thrown into landfill.”

So does recycling in Britain really lag behind the rest of Europe?

Europe produces more than a billion tonnes of waste every year, but the EU is committed to reducing this. By early 2008, five EU countries had already achieved the 50 per cent recycling rate for municipal solid waste – the level currently being proposed by the European Parliament as a binding target for all EU governments by 2020. Denmark and the Netherlands, for example, send almost no waste to landfill, whilst the Netherlands and Austria recycle or compost the most waste, at more than 60 per cent each.

However, Britain certainly does not deserve the title of ‘dustbin of Europe’; previous statistics show that Greece landfills more than 90 per cent of its rubbish, with Portugal not far behind.

There’s no room for complacency, though. With the landfill tax rising each year, we must all reduce the amount of waste we generate – especially the type that can’t be recycled – if we want to keep council tax bills down. Nearly two thirds of all household rubbish can be recycled, which saves energy and raw materials. Even better is avoiding waste in the first place, or repairing and re-using items.

Remember the waste hierarchy: Prevention; Re-use; Recycling; Other forms of recovery; Disposal.

If your council is poor at recycling, write to them or contact your local councillor to demand better recycling facilities now. Find details for your council here.

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