Friends of the Earth is today calling on the Government to give councils new powers to charge householders according to the amount of waste they produce, as new English recycling figures are released.

Householders would pay this ‘variable rate’ in place of the existing charge in their council tax, so good recyclers would save money and homes which generate excessive waste would pay more than they do at present. Variable charging is common in countries with high rates of recycling. Councils would need to ensure that variable rate charging schemes are fair by providing good doorstep recycling and composting services, raising public awareness through education campaigns and helping households on low incomes. There would also need to be adequate measures to deal with the potential increase in fly-tipping.

A recent survey found that many councils would be keen to set up charging schemes if they had the power to do so. In Europe, charging schemes have typically increased recycling and composting rates by 30-40 per cent. Such schemes have also resulted in estimated reductions in the amount of residual waste to be managed of between 15 and 50 per cent.

Georgina Bloomfield, Recycling Campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “Most people in the UK pay a fixed rate for waste management in their council tax and this means there is no economic incentive for them to reduce their waste or to recycle and compost. If we are serious about tackling waste then we need to give councils the power to charge householders a variable rate according to the amount they produce. Such schemes are common in Europe and have dramatically reduced waste and improved recycling rates.”

The household waste recycling rate in England is estimated to be over 22 per cent for 2004/05. However, to reach the standards of other European countries, like Germany and the Netherlands where they recycle 57 and 64 per cent respectively, we will also need ambitious long term targets. The Government has announced that long-awaited proposals for new statutory performance targets for local authorities will be published shortly, but has indicated that targets will only be set for 2007/08.

Friends of the Earth believes that targets beyond this year are required so that councils can adequately plan waste management infrastructure for the future. The environmental group has recommended a national target of 50% by 2010, supported by new waste policy measures, in its publication Target recycling: aiming for 50 per cent and beyond released earlier this year. Georgina Bloomfield continued: “The Government has been slow at setting further recycling targets for local authorities and there are currently no targets set beyond 2005/06. To ensure councils can plan for the longer term they must provide clear direction in the form of performance standards beyond 2008.”