Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Fifth Report


16. 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.

17. The majority of waste is currently dumped in landfill sites: of the 106 million tonnes, 66 million tonnes find their way into landfill.[7] 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.

18. 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.

19. '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'.

Of this 106 million tonnes, around 30 million tonnes are currently recycled or composted Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 21 March 2001