Experts bemoan UKs recycling progress

11 Jan 07
The local government finance regime and waste monopolies have helped to make Britain Europe's worst performer in waste recycling, experts have claimed.

12 January 2007

The local government finance regime and waste monopolies have left Britain the as the worst performer in waste disposal in Europe, experts have claimed.

The Local Government Association warned this week that the UK sends more rubbish to landfill – 27 million tonnes each year – than any other country in the European Union, and faces annual fines of up to £200m a year when EU limits come into force in 2010.

The LGA is calling on central government to award councils 'save-as-you-throw' powers to charge residents for their non-recyclable waste.

Michael Warhurst, senior waste resources campaigner at Friends of the Earth told Public Finance that such charges were important to change individual behaviour – but that current procurement arrangements and private finance initiative contracts also hampered progress on recycling as they favoured landfill interests.

'Partly because of PFI and partly because of a move to have all elements of the contract unified, companies have to bid for recycling, rubbish collection and street-cleaning all in one,' he said. 'This tends to move things in the direction of just a few big companies who tend to favour the status quo rather than innovation.'

Most of Britain's landfill sites are owned by five companies. The Office of Fair Trading warned last year about the risk of 'entrenched' regional monopolies, particularly when councils let contracts combining rubbish collection with landfill, incineration and recycling.

The sort of recycling offered by large companies was often inferior to that provided by small-scale dedicated operators, said Warhurst, as recyclable waste was mixed together when collected and only separated later.

This led to contamination – leaving glass shards in paper, for example – which meant that recyclable material was rejected by UK processors and insteadshipped overseas.

The Environment Agency is due to begin legal proceedings next month against one of the UK's largest recycling companies, Grosvenor Waste Management, alleged to have shipped illegal mixed waste to India and the Far East.

Corin Thomson, policy officer at the LGA told PF that councils were keen to initiate more small-scale dedicated recycling schemes but that the funding regime worked against this.

The latest government guidance said that such projects should be funded through borrowing from the Public Works Loans Board, which would be repaid through additional support from central government, but up to half of councils were not eligible for this support.

The alternative was to initiate larger scale projects through PFI. 'But a number of authorities have said that PFI schemes are unaffordable. The impact they will have on council tax is up to 10%. So they're faced with a situation where they need to do something as they're faced with fines under the [EU] Land Fill Directive, but the cost of doing something is prohibitively high and they're not getting enough PFI credits,' she said.


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