The law, which has twice been passed by the European Parliament, would have obliged Britain and other EU countries to stop waste increasing beyond its present level. But the Government has refused to accept it – and so have its counterparts across the Continent.
On Tuesday the parliament is expected to back down, and agree what Green MEPs call a "shameful" compromise that would put the whole issue of halting the proliferation of waste on to the back burner for another six years. Enough rubbish is thrown out in Britain every hour to fill the Royal Albert Hall right to the top of its dome. Every person in the country, on average, produces half a ton of it a year – almost the same figure as for Europeans as a whole.
The European Environment Agency expects this continent-wide average to increase to two-thirds of a ton in the next 12 years. It says that by 2020 enough household rubbish will be being produced in Europe each year to cover the island of Malta seven and a half feet deep and urges governments not to "become complacent with regard to the continuing growth in waste".
The amount of municipal trash collected in England in 2006/07, the last period for which full figures are available, rose by 1.4 per cent – seven times more than the average so far this century – to 28.7 million tons. Yet household rubbish makes up less than one 10th of the more than 330 million tons of waste being produced in Britain each year, and is dwarfed by the detritus from construction and demolition, mining, industry and commerce. Ministers are, in theory at least, committed to reducing these amounts.
The Government's waste strategy says: "If every country consumed natural resources at the rate the UK does, we would need three planets to live on. Reducing our use of natural resources, and recycling materials and recovering energy from those we do use, is a vital part of moving us towards one-planet living." But when it came to the crunch, ministers failed to put their policy into practice.
In February last year – as part of revising a 33-year-old Brussels directive on waste – the European Parliament voted to set a binding target that would have meant that all EU countries would have to stabilise their production of waste at present levels by 2012.
Posted on 20th June 2008
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