Stop needlessly sending waste to landfill

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Hilary Benn, the former Environment Secretary, has, on March 18, 2010, set out plans to sort more waste, save resources and cut greenhouse gas emissions. Too many everyday waste materials such as metal cans, wood, paper, and food end up in landfill when there is a market for them and an environmental argument for re-using and recycling them.

The Environment Secretary visited Bywaters Materials Recovery facility in Bow where a mixture of co-mingled and separate material is processed. At Bywaters he set out the economic benefits of reducing waste to landfill.

During this launch of plans the minister 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.

“Waste comes from both businesses and households. 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.”

The joint Defra and Welsh Assembly Government publication ‘Consultation on the Introduction of Restrictions on the Landfilling of Certain Wastes’ considers the case for restricting sending the following types of waste to landfill: paper and card; food; textiles; metals; wood; garden waste; glass; plastics; and electrical and electronic equipment.

We want to make the most of the materials and waste flowing through our economy at every step of the way. By thinking much more carefully about what we do with our waste instead of sending it directly to landfill we can expect to see:

  • New markets for recycled products and recovered materials – a tonne of aluminium cans is currently worth £819-850 and 100,000 tonnes of aluminium packaging are currently landfilled each year;

  • New jobs as the waste sector gets bigger over time - ‘Less is More’, released earlier this week reminds businesses that there are opportunities for new markets in recovered materials, ranging from mixed plastics to food waste and coloured glass.

  • Householders, businesses and councils saving money, by providing an incentive to prevent waste from arising in the first place.

  • Making an aluminium can from scratch uses nearly 20 times more energy than making it from a recycled can;

  • A reduction in food waste; and

  • More energy generated from waste – the Government intends to produce a new Energy from Waste policy towards the end of 2010.

We must consider how best to get good quality materials out of the waste stream into a form that industry can use to make new products – that’s why we are consulting on the need to go further with local authorities and businesses in sorting local waste and on the principle of restricting materials from landfill.

Britain’s reliance on landfill is already reducing with people reusing and recycling more, and Local Authorities providing more services to allow this to happen. Having the right incentives and regulations will help businesses and LAs to make the most of waste in a way that makes economic sense.

The consultation seeks views on different options to restrict these wastes sent to landfill including: 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.

Also launched were:

  • A consultation on how the UK meets the EU Landfill Directive targets to reduce the amount of biodegradable municipal waste sent to landfill. In future the targets will extend beyond waste managed by local authorities to include more commercial waste managed by the private sector, but this will not mean local authority landfill allowances or their obligations to collect waste will change.

  • A Strategy for Hazardous Waste Management in England, which will help drive hazardous waste away from landfill, and promote prevention, recycling and recovery. It should also help the provision of infrastructure for the management of this waste by providing clarity on the principles that should apply.

Apparently landfill bans of biodegradable or recyclable wastes 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.

Research into how a landfill ban might work in practice in the UK is also published today. The research was carried out by Eunomia and looked at the practicalities of implementing landfill bans in the UK. The research can be viewed at

It is amazing, as per usual, how this government, and particularly in the environmental realm, as well as that of education, chooses to make use of, for instance, German examples when it suits them, as in this instance.

On other occasions when equally well working schemes from Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, etc., are pointed out to them, such as the reverse vending machines for bottles and drinks cans, or other aspects, the answer is that it would not work in the UK.

If this can work other schemes can be made to work as well. Let's have some political will to, for instance, reward people for recycling and sorting recyclables and bringing them in, for instance, as it is done in the USA and other countries.

We also do not have to have a lengthy study to see whether it works, giving some academic think tank or such lots of money and a reason to exist. All we need is have a look at the way things are done in the places where they work and then adapt those schemes for our own use. It is not rocket science and there is no need to reinvent the wheel. Maybe the new government will understand that.

© 2010