UK risks missing EU landfill targets

12th August 2013

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  • Pollution & Waste Management



Government spending cuts are undermining the country's ability to meet European targets on waste reduction, local authorities and waste firms have warned

The UK is risking “significant fines” by failing to invest in the infrastructure needed to meet targets set by the Landfill Directive (1999/31/EC), according to experts from the UK’s waste sector.

Under the Directive, the UK must cut the amount of biodegradable waste being sent to landfill in 2020 to just 35% of that in 1995.

But, in an open letter to Defra, the heads of the Institute of Civil Engineers and the Environmental Services Association – the body representing the UK’s waste sector – and the Local Government Technical Advisers Group, warn there is a “potential shortfall in the amount of waste treatment capacity coming on stream in the next few years”.

The authors criticises the government’s decision in July to withdraw funding from three “major” residual waste projects as “short-sighted”.

They argue that the data being used by Defra to make investment decisions is “out of date” and cite statistics suggesting that the amount of waste being collected by local authorities is on the rise, while recycling rates have plateaued.

The bodies urge the government to review its data, saying it “poses a genuine risk to the UK’s ability to meet its 2020 targets”.

“2020 is no longer on the distant horizon and, like all major infrastructure projects, waste schemes take years to come to fruition and cannot be brought on stream at a moment’s notice,” states the letter. “Ministers should recognise that the UK’s strategy to stop waste being sent to landfill is in peril.”

The letter comes after Defra launched a consultation on its plans for a waste prevention programme for England, as required by EU legislation.

In the consultation, the environment department outlines what it sees as the roles of government, businesses and local authorities in cutting waste. Companies have a “critical role” in reducing the impacts of products, says Defra, and are encouraged to work across their supply chains and explore more “sustainable business models and product design”.

The government, meanwhile, will take on a “leadership role”, by adopting sustainable procurement practices itself and by supporting businesses through initiatives such as development of new voluntary waste management standards.

The consultation runs until 23 September and the finalised programme must be published by the end of the year to meet EU rules. The devolved governments are developing their own national waste prevention programmes. Scotland consulted on its “safeguarding Scotland’s resources programme” last summer, and the Welsh government closed its consultation on its proposals for a waste prevention programme in June.

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