6. As already noted, we discussed Sustainable Waste
Management at considerable length in 1998. In May 2000, the Government
unveiled its Waste Strategy 2000 and we considered this
to be an appropriate point to revisit this subject. Our terms
of reference were to examine whether the policies set out in the
Waste Strategy 2000 are sufficient to deliver sustainable
waste management, and whether the necessary measures, including
provision of financial resources, were in place for those policies
to be implemented. Specifically, we asked whether the Government's
Waste Strategy 2000, as it applies to central government,
local authorities and other public and private bodies, would result
- more efficient use of resources and a consequent
reduction in the amount of material entering the waste stream;
- an increase in recycling of waste, particularly
by greater development of markets for recycled material (including
compost) and the use of producer responsibility measures;
- increased use of incineration as a waste disposal/recovery
option and what the implications of such an increase would be;
- a reduction in the amount of waste sent to landfill
and the effects of the Landfill Tax and its associated Credit
- a reduction in, and better management of, hazardous
- significant action to improve the example set
by Government in exercising 'green' procurement policies; and
- sufficient action to educate the public about
the importance of sustainable waste management.
7. In response, we received 123 memoranda of evidence
and held eight oral evidence sessions in the final three months
of the year 2000. During the course of the inquiry, we heard from
the full range of those involved in waste management. We were
enthusiastically and ably assisted by Dr Dominic Hogg of Eonomia
Research and Consulting and David Mansell, our specialist advisers,
and we offer them our thanks.
8. Waste management is a complex and sprawling subject
and we neither attempted to cover all aspects, nor to replicate
our 1998 inquiry. As such, this Report does not attempt to provide
a comprehensive analysis of waste management but rather focuses
on those areas we examined during our inquiry. We particularly
concentrate on those areas where change is necessary and, in most
cases, heavily overdue.
What's the Problem?
9. The simple statistics of waste make depressing
reading. In total, we in England and Wales produce some 106 million
tonnes of industrial, commercial and household waste each year.
Such a statistic means little without context: this is equivalent
to each of us producing more than 20 times our own body weight
in waste every year. Further, we produce around 300 million tonnes
annually of construction and demolition wastes, agricultural wastes,
mining wastes, sewage sludge and dredged spoils. These wastes
are not considered further in this Report. Here, we focus on the
106 million tonnes figure, and particularly on the 28 million
tonnes of municipal waste which is produced.
10. The majority of waste is currently dumped in
landfill sites: of the 106 million tonnes, 66 million tonnes find
their way into landfill.
The municipal waste stream is the most likely to end up there,
with 23 of the 28 million tonnes produced being disposed of in
this way. From both an environmental and an economic perspective,
landfill is probably the least attractive option for handling
waste: in most cases, it is possible to recover some value from
materials which are being landfilled. Also, the availability of
capacity for landfill is dwindling in some regions: many sites
are now full and it is proving difficult to identify new sites.
The need to reduce landfill has now been formalised in the EU
Landfill Directive which requires the amount of biodegradable
municipal waste which is landfilled to be reduced in stages, ultimately
to 35% of that landfilled in 1995 by 2020.
11. One of the other major pressures is that some
parts of the waste stream may be growing rapidly. For municipal
waste, the whole waste industry appears to be using a working
assumption that this stream will grow by up to 3% year on year
into the future. This would imply a doubling of municipal waste
in less than 25 years and places an acute pressure on the need
to change waste practices if we are to reduce the amount landfilled
during this time. Strangely, the 3% figure is rarely challenged,
still less confronted, despite the fact that the consequences
are so unpalatable.
12. 'The problem', defined simply, is what do we
do to reduce the amount of waste being produced and divert much
of what we do produce away from landfill? Do we do the bare minimum
or do we use this time as an opportunity to bring about a real
step change in how we view and deal with waste? Do we aim to nudge
waste gradually up the waste hierarchy or do we take this opportunity
to overhaul the whole system and aim to cultivate an approach
which is fitting for a developed and civilised country entering
the 21st century? Perhaps the real problem is one we
have already defined: that those involved with waste continue
to prefer inaction, or at best 'nudging', rather than 'overhauling'.
What's the Government
doing about it?
13. The Government published the Waste Strategy
2000 in May 2000. The Strategy summarises the waste situation
and contains some targets for changing the amount of waste dealt
with by particular techniques. There are, however, few major new
policy mechanisms detailed in the Waste Strategy 2000 and
the majority of expectation for change is handed down to local
14. Whatever the merits or otherwise of the Strategy,
its publication ended a period of limbo for waste policy. The
1995 White Paper Making Waste Work: a strategy for sustainable
waste management in England and Wales was only "an advisory
document" according to the Government at the time.
In July 1999, the present Government issued a consultation document
A Way with Waste and after a conspicuously lengthy consultation
period and a still longer drafting period, the final Strategy
was published. It is unfortunate that the Strategy took so long
to complete and this delay must be partly responsible for the
very limited progress which has been made in areas such as recycling,
which has increased from 5% of the municipal waste stream in 1994
to 9% now.
15. The Strategy is largely based around achieving
various targets. Many of these apply to specific waste streams
but there are also some over-arching targets:
- to recycle or compost at least 25% of household
waste by 2005;
- to recycle or compost at least 30% of household
waste by 2010;
- to recycle or compost at least 33% of household
waste by 2015;
- to recover value
from 40% of municipal waste by 2005;
- to recover value from 45% of municipal waste
- to recover value from 67% of municipal waste
The targets set for the UK in the Landfill Directive
are also considered in the Strategy:
- by 2010 to reduce biodegradable municipal waste
landfilled to 75% of that produced in 1995;
- by 2013 to reduce biodegradable municipal waste
landfilled to 50% of that produced in 1995;
- by 2020 to reduce biodegradable municipal waste
landfilled to 35% of that produced in 1995;
It is important to note that the achievement of these
Landfill Directive targets will depend partially on the rate of
growth of waste since they are based on absolute levels of waste
in 1995, rather than the relative proportions of waste landfilled
in the future.
16. Although these targets are clearly meaningful
and, if achieved, will mark some progress in waste management,
many witnesses suggested that they were unambitious compared to
those which are being set elsewhere in Europe. For example, Table
1 below shows the UK targets for recycling against those set in
other countries. It is immediately apparent that the UK is amongst
the less ambitious. Even where other countries are currently not
achieving high levels of recycling or other waste targets, it
is noticeable from the table that they have set ambitious targets
for the future.
Table 1: European Recycling and Composting
Rates and Targets
|Country||Recent Recycling/Composting Rate
||Must source separate/home compost. Waste landfilled must be less than 5% volatile organic solids.
|Belgium||Flanders (F) 59%Brussels (B) 8%Wallonia (W) 21%
||F: Minimum levels of service provision for local authorities
||30% recycling/composting of household waste by 2004, 40-50% in longer-term
||Recovery of 70% of MSW by 2005, mostly through recycling, composting and anaerobic digestion.
Recovery of 75% of biowaste by 2005 through composting and anaerobic digestion.
Recovery of 75% of paper and card by 2005. From 2005, no MSW may be landfilled unless biodegradable fraction has been separated at source.
||50% of municipal waste to be collected for recycling or composting
||25% of BMW to be composted by 2005
||National law established minimum level of source separation of 35% by 2003.
||Organic components of MSW and comparable source have to be composted or treated, and a central aim is the separate collection and treatment of organic waste.
||Aim was 60% recycling by 2000
||Recycling of MSW 15% in 2000 and 25% in 2005;
Composting of MSW of about 15% by 2000 and 25% by 2005;
||25% of household waste recycled or composted by 2005;
30% recycled or composted by 2010;
33% recycled or composted by 2015
17. Witnesses were supportive of the general thrust
of Waste Strategy 2000 but gave it only lukewarm or partial
Aside from the targets set, we heard many criticisms of specific
aspects of the Strategy: that it failed to adequately reflect
the need to minimise waste production, that it was over-focussed
on achieving the targets in the Landfill Directive,
that it provided a "charter for incineration",
and that it was dominated by municipal waste, to the exclusion
of the larger streams of commercial and industrial waste and the
problematic 'hazardous waste'. But more general criticisms were
also levelled: many considered that it did not provide the document
with the vision, initiative and ambition which is required at
this stage of developing the national waste strategy. A few quotes
demonstrate the level of feeling:
"Sustainable waste management
in England and Wales is not a question of technical ability, but
one of political will. ... Waste Strategy 2000 fails to
provide the political will."
"Waste Strategy 2000
is an eloquent document but it is a relative desert in terms of
"The Environment Minister was saying that we
had to appreciate when he launched the document that this was
a massive change. I did not pick up in the document elements of
"could be much more substantive and much more
"there is little evidence that the deep changes
needed to policies, practices and public attitudes will be brought
about by Waste Strategy 2000."
These criticisms come not only from those one might
expect to voice disappointments - the environmental groups such
as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth - but also from those involved
in developing waste strategies and the waste industry themselves.
18. The most serious criticism of the Strategy is
that it is a misnomer: that there is no strategy, or vision, rather
a list of aspirations and some relatively weak levers to achieve
Certainly, it is difficult to avoid such a conclusion when examining
Chapter 3 of the Strategy, 'Levers for Change'. To produce real
shifts will require major new policies, not just a little tinkering
with existing ones and a bit more funding. Perhaps the most graphic
analogy was provided by Waste Watch, who commented that:
"If the targets in Waste
Strategy 2000 were the equivalent of trying to beat Manchester
United at Old Trafford, then the tools available to date are the
equivalent of fielding a team like Oldham Athletic - with very
real limits on the resources available for new signings!"
Leaving aside the varying ability of the football
teams of North-West England, WasteWatch went on:
"What is significantly
lacking in Waste Strategy 2000 - and lacking in the general
debate - is any meaningful discussion of the sorts of measures
that may well be required if we are to truly make 'step-changes'
in waste management and resource use more widely."
19. That the document fails to provide a real vision
or strategy is extremely worrying. The clear implication is that
those developing waste policy are merely responding to the thrust
of policy at European Union level without a concept of where the
UK should be heading. By failing to offer an ambitious vision
of what we should be trying to do beyond that which is effectively
required to meet the EU Directives, the Waste Strategy 2000
lets down those in the industry and large numbers of citizens
who are looking to offer something dramatically better than the
status quo. There is no vision or goal of a sustainable waste
management system defined in the Strategy - it provides merely
checkpoints of improvement but no defining goal.
20. The absence of strategy is best demonstrated
by the example of the proper role of incineration. The Strategy
does not define what it sees as the appropriate scale or level
of incineration and Ministers and officials refused to define
this when they appeared before us. The gap between recycling and
recovery targets invites authorities to deduce that they should
'recover' the difference, so that as much as 33% of the waste
stream could be incinerated by 2015. So, without such guidance
and with the pressure to reduce the amount of waste landfilled
combined with only limited support for increasing recycling, incineration
takes on a looming presence and could quickly eat into the potential
for increased recycling and composting in future years.
21. The Waste Strategy 2000 fails to offer
an inspiring vision of sustainable waste management. It sets some
useful short and medium term targets, but without the inspiration
provided by a longer-term vision of what we are trying to do,
it risks succeeding in its own narrow terms whilst failing to
provide a foundation for a more sustainable system.
What can we do with waste
and can we avoid producing it?
22. This question can only be answered properly if
we have a comprehensive understanding of who produces waste, what
the composition of that waste it, why they produce it and how
it might change under different circumstances. However, the quantity
and quality of data on waste has been an enduring source of disappointment
to us since 1994, when we first considered waste matters in depth.
In 1998, we concluded that:
lack of information in Government about waste is extraordinary:
it would appear to be common sense that one first identifies the
nature and scale of the problem before attempting to sort it out.
The production of accurate statistics on waste arising, the composition
of waste at the point of arising and on the demographic structure
of households (which affects that composition) must be a Government
This concern was reiterated in our 1999 Report on
The Operation of the Landfill Tax.
Although the situation has improved a little since then, the data
now available is by no means adequate.
The Community Recycling Network told us that it "has no confidence"
in the data used to formulate the Waste Strategy 2000 and
they pointed out that data on waste continues to be produced without
This inevitably undermines the quality of the data and the validity
of year-on-year comparisons. Further, even well-informed witnesses
were unable to explain how the quantity and composition of household
waste varies from household to household with the usual socio-economic
variables such as income and number of adults.
Such relationships are of more than just academic interest: they
can be used to design and refine kerbside recycling schemes, to
develop an accurate and realistic business plan and to ensure
that local waste management strategies are robust and realistic.
We have reproduced in Appendix 1 some details of waste composition
from the data available and in Appendix 2 a critique of the data
available by our advisers, David Mansell and Dr Dominic Hogg.
23. But it is not only the quality and quantity of
data which is available which concerns us. We are disappointed
at the delays which have characterised the production of the outputs
from the first national waste survey. The Strategic Waste Management
Assessments finally appeared near the end of our inquiry: many
witnesses noted that the delays in producing these assessments
had, in turn, delayed the production of regional waste strategies
and local waste plans.
The Planning Officers Society told us of the problems faced by
their members because of the lack of data:
"they have been very
seriously inhibited by the non-availability of information at
the regional level ... We await the results of the 1998 industrial
and commercial survey from the Agency ... Without information,
you cannot start the planning process."
24. The Environment Agency told us that their initial
bid for funding to carry out a further national waste survey had
not been accepted but that they were still talking to the Department
of the Environment, Transport and the Regions about finding the
The Agency also told us of their wish to move towards a rolling
system of continuous data gathering.
We remain extremely disappointed with the data available on
waste arisings: the data available is incomplete, unreliable and
often published too late to be of use. This situation has hindered
the development of both national and local waste strategies. Only
with adequate data will we able to tell whether policy measures
are successfully influencing people and businesses' waste decisions
and determine what further measures are necessary. We recommend
that the Government make sure money is made available to the Environment
Agency to enable it to carry out continuous monitoring of waste.
We also urge the Environment Agency to process the information
more speedily than they have thus far managed.
25. The burden of data collection could be considerably
eased if businesses started to monitor their waste production
and practices and keep information in a standard format.
If this data were then automatically passed to the Environment
Agency, the workload for the Agency would be reduced and the reliability
and accuracy of waste data enhanced.