The UK faces fines of up to �180m a year from the European Union, because it is likely to miss targets for reducing the amount of waste that is tipped into landfill sites, the National Audit Office warned today. The spending watchdog pointed out that the fines will be passed on to local authorities, and ultimately council tax payers, for their failure to recycle more waste. 999 EU directive all member states must reduce the amount waste buried in landfill sites by 25% of the 1995 levels by 2010, 50% by 2014 and 65% by 2020.

In a report published today (pdf), the NAO predicted that if no further action is taken councils will miss the 2010 target by 270,000 tonnes, and the 2014 target by 1.4m tonnes.

The report said it was difficult to predict the level of EU fines, but it cited the prime minister's strategy unit, which said penalties could be up to £180m a year. It also found that the UK lags way behind many other European countries in its record on landfill waste.

In 2003, 75% of municipal waste was buried in Britain, compared to 38% in France and only 20% in Germany, it said. The report said that the level of recycling and composting would need to increase to achieve the target, but it also said more waste would need to be burned in unpopular incinerators.