26 September 2008
Councils cannot rely on recycling alone if they are to meet European landfill-reduction targets, the local government watchdog has warned.
The Audit Commission said that councils had to turn their attention to waste-processing technologies if they were to avoid being hit by hefty fines once the European Union Landfill Directive begins to bite in 2010.
Chair Michael O'Higgins told Public Finance that recycling would have to rise to an 'implausible' level if it were to be the sole method of reducing landfill. Authorities needed to think seriously about what they planned to do with non-recyclable waste.
The Audit Commission described its September 25 report, Well disposed: responding to the waste challenge, as the 'bible' of what is happening in municipal waste disposal. 'Anything you could want to know about options, about strategies, about what should or could be happening, it's in there somewhere,' O'Higgins said.
The report found that councils are on track to meet the target of reducing the amount of biodegradable waste going to landfill to 75% of its 1995 level by 2010, and to 50% of its 1995 level by 2013.
While much of this has been achieved by increased recycling – rates have quadrupled since 1999 – the Audit Commission said the most significant impact on landfill reduction would come from investment in technologies that convert waste into energy and fuel.
Some schemes are already under way but if these were delayed by just two years England could exceed its landfill allocation by 13%, incurring £140m in penalties.
Councils likely to miss the target can trade landfill allowances with other councils, but O'Higgins said there was not much evidence to suggest that authorities are thinking about their trading position.
'To some extent that's probably because authorities don't want to say they're going to miss the targets and have to resort to trading,' he told PF. 'But if you think you're not going to make your targets it's better to be open about that and think about the alternative strategies you might use.'
Paul Bettison, chair of the Local Government Association's Environment Board, agreed that there was a pressing need to do more to reduce the country's reliance on landfill.
He said: 'Councils are pulling out the stops to deliver projects that will deal with waste. But the reality is the government has hit the council taxpayer with a £1.5bn bill over the next three years by going back on its undertaking to refund money raised through landfill tax to local authorities. This is cash that could be used to build the facilities that are needed to divert waste away from landfill.'