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Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Fifth Report


20. 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 authorities.

21. 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.[8] 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.

22. 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[9] from 40% of municipal waste by 2005;

  • to recover value from 45% of municipal waste by 2010;

  • to recover value from 67% of municipal waste by 2015;

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.

32. 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

CountryRecent Recycling/

Composting Rate

Austria45% Must source separate/home compost. Waste landfilled must be less than 5% volatile organic solids.
BelgiumFlanders (F) 59%

Brussels (B) 8%

Wallonia (W) 21%

F: Minimum levels of service provision for local authorities
Denmark30% 30% recycling/composting of household waste by 2004, 40-50% in longer-term
Finland33% 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.

France7% 50% of municipal waste to be collected for recycling or composting
Greece8% 25% of BMW to be composted by 2005
Italy9% National law established minimum level of source separation of 35% by 2003.
Luxembourg25% 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.
Netherlands44% Aim was 60% recycling by 2000
PortugalNo data Recycling of MSW 15% in 2000 and 25% in 2005;

Composting of MSW of about 15% by 2000 and 25% by 2005;

UK9.5% 25% of household waste recycled or composted by 2005;

30% recycled or composted by 2010;

33% recycled or composted by 2015

33. Witnesses were supportive of the general thrust of Waste Strategy 2000 but gave it only lukewarm or partial commendation.[10] 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,[11] that it provided a "charter for incineration",[12] 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."[13]

    "Waste Strategy 2000 is an eloquent document but it is a relative desert in terms of delivery mechanisms."[14]

    "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 massive change..."[15]

    "could be much more substantive and much more strategic"[16]

    "there is little evidence that the deep changes needed to policies, practices and public attitudes will be brought about by Waste Strategy 2000."[17]

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]

34. 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 those aims.[19] 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."[20]

35. 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.

36. 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.

37. 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.

8   See paragraph 16, Sustainable Waste Management, Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee, HC 484-I (1997-98) Back

9   'Recover value' in this context means to recycle, to compost, other forms of material recovery (such as anaerobic digestion) and energy recovery Back

See, for example, Ev p5, p20, p40, p87 (HC 903-II) Back

Ev p37, p112, p205 (HC 903-II) Back

Ev p149 (HC 903-II) Back

Ev p39 (HC 903-II) Back

Ev p114 (HC 903-II) Back

Q142 Back

Q22 Back

Ev p57 (HC 903-II) Back

See, for example, Ev p35, p70, p100 (HC 903-II) and Ev p179 (HC 36-II) Back

Q22 Back

Ev p300 (HC 903-II) Back

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