The government announced yesterday that the UK has met its EU target for 2010 requiring the diversion of biodegradable municipal waste away from landfill and is on track to meet future targets for 2013 and 2020.
However, the coalition risked angering environmental groups by rejecting plans put forward by the previous government that sought to boost recycling by banning recyclable materials such as paper, textiles, wood, glass and plastics from being sent to landfill.
According to figures released by Defra, 14.6 million tonnes of municipal waste was sent to landfill in England last year compared to a target for 2010 of about 21.7 million tonnes. Data is still being collated from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but the government expressed confidence it will meet the 2010 target set under the EU Landfill Directive, which requires the amount of biodegradable waste sent to landfill to be reduced by 25 per cent against 1995 levels.
The UK now has to cut the amount of biodegradable waste sent to landfill by 50 per cent and 65 per cent by 2013 and 2020 respectively, or risk EU fines that could run to hundreds of millions of pounds.
Environment minister Lord Henley said the data suggested growing numbers of businesses and households had embraced measures to reduce landfill waste.
“It is pleasing to see that from the latest data the UK will meet the 2010 Landfill Directive target as it shows that people are beginning to realise that we can’t continue sending huge amounts of waste to landfill,” he said. “As this government strives to be the greenest government ever it will be important that this trend continues as we look to meet future targets.”
However, the new data coincided with Lord Henley’s decision to reject one of the previous government’s main policies for delivering improved recycling rates following a consultation on plans to restrict the landfilling of recyclable and biodegrable materials.
The consultation asked for views on a range of policy options, including retaining the current regime, introducing landfill bans and requirements to sort waste, imposing tougher pre-treatment rules, and developing further producer responsibility schemes similar to those used to tackle eWaste.
Tougher restrictions, including a complete ban on sending some recyclable materials to landfill, had received strong support from the previous environment secretary Hilary Benn. But speaking yesterday Lord Henley said the policy would not now be pursued by the coalition.
“This government is not minded to introduce further landfill restrictions in England at this stage, but will consider how best to make progress towards the objective of zero waste to landfill as part of the Review of Waste Policies, due to conclude in spring 2011,” he said.
The ban on sending certain materials to landfill could yet be adopted in Wales and Scotland where both devolved administrations have announced plans to establish themselves as zero waste societies.
Scotland has a Zero Waste to landfill policy where an ambitious target of Zero Watse by 2525 to landfill.
Dr Michael Warhurst, resource use campaigner at Friends of the Earth, expressed disappointment that the coalition had dropped the proposed restrictions on landfill waste.
“It’s good to hear that the UK is on course to meet its 2010 landfill diversion target,” he said. “But if the coalition is serious about delivering on its promise of being the greenest government ever, it must ban the land-filling and incineration of recyclable material, which will help cut climate changing emissions and create new jobs.”