"We have trebled recycling since 1997 but we need to do far more. We must start to see waste as a resource," said Ben Bradshaw, the minister for local environment quality while calling for a revolution in how industry, local government and households treat waste.
The review proposes that 27% of all the waste produced by households in England should be burned by 2020 compared with 9% today and that the amount of waste put into landfill sites should drop from more than 72% today to 25% by 2020.
Britain currently recycles 22% of its household waste while Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and Belgium all recycle more than half. But while industry welcomed the idea of focusing on incineration, environmental groups said yesterday that the government lacked ambition and predicted that the move would run into social problems. "It is is very unpopular with communities, it is very expensive for local authorities and it could undermine attempts to recycle more," said Anna Watson, waste campaigner for Friends of the Earth.
FoE released research showing that 22 incinerators were already in the planning pipeline and 12 more may be needed to meet the government's waste targets. "Incinerators burn valuable resources which would be better reused, recycled or composted," said Dr Watson. "They are not a form of renewable energy as they burn a range of materials including plastics and are incredibly inefficient energy producers."
But Mr Bradshaw said the government had scaled back the amount of incineration it thought would be needed and that the technology involved had greatly improved. "We will still have far less [incineration] than comparable EU countries. There are outdated fears about the technology," he said. "Germany has hundreds of incinerators." The government, which is being forced to act on waste because of tough EU targets to avoid landfill, said it expected total household waste to grow at about 1.5% a year over the next 15 years but commercial waste to grow 52% in that time. Packaging waste, especially from supermarkets and other retailers, is growing the fastest.
Mr Bradshaw called on designers to make it easier for goods to be recycled. "Moving towards a recycling culture, both at home and at work, is just one of the ways we can help achieve targets - but the new strategy places a much greater emphasis on waste prevention," he said.
"We need to put more effort into producing less waste in the first place, before considering how to make more use of the waste which is left by reusing, recycling, composting or using it as a fuel."
The Environment Agency welcomed the review. Martin Brocklehurst, head of waste strategy said: "We have tough targets to meet. With £10bn of investment predicted just to meet the landfill diversion targets for household rubbish, we clearly need to find better ways of reducing the amount we generate."
Posted on 22nd February 2006
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