2 DEALING WITH WASTE
10. Perhaps because the sheer volume of the waste
we produce is so immense as to be unimaginable, there has been
a strong tendency to reach for the homely metaphor. We are told
repeatedly that we each throw out about seven times our own body
weight each year; that enough rubbish is thrown away every hour
to fill the Albert Hall; that the total value of discarded food
averages out at £424 for every person in the country.
While such examples may not always be precisely accurate, the
temptation to use them to give meaning to the 272 million or so
tonnes of waste England produces each year is considerable.
Of those 272 million tonnes, though, fewer than a tenth are immediately
relevant to this inquiry, being the amount collected from households
and disposed of by local authorities.
|Annual Waste Arisings in England
|Demolition and construction||32%
|Mining and Quarrying||30%
Table 1: derived from Waste Strategy for England, 2007, chart
1.2, p. 24
11. Municipal waste arisings in England totalled 28.7 million
tonnes in 2005-06, with household waste at around 25.5 million
tonnes (89 per cent).
(The 3.2 million tonne difference is the waste councils collect
from local commerce, by request, and usually with charges attached).
Some 6.8 million tonnes were recycled or composted in 2005-06
(27.1 per cent), surpassing the Government's 25 per cent target.
The 2005-06 figures show the first overall reduction achieved
in municipal waste arisings for many yearsa 3 per cent
cut from 29.6 million tonnes the previous yearalthough
a five-year average to 2005-06 shows waste volumes still rising
by about 0.5 per cent a year overall.
12. Britain's traditional approach to its municipal
rubbish has been to bury it or burn it. The past decade, however,
has seen a substantial shift towards recycling, with more than
a quarter of the waste collected from homes now recycled or composted.
The percentage of municipal waste sent to landfill fell from 82
per cent in 1998-99 to 62 per cent in 2005-06, but as recently
as 2005 the UK nevertheless still sent proportionately more of
its municipal waste to landfill than any of its then 14 EU partners,
except Ireland and Greece.The
then Minister for Waste, Ben Bradshaw MP, told us that the foundations
of Government policy were "landfill diversion and climate
already noted in paragraph 8, the environmental impetus to reduce
both the resources wasted and their negative impacts, such as
the creation of methane gas from biodegradable waste, is underpinned
by hard financial incentives.
13. The most immediate of these is the European Landfill
Directive, under which England is required to landfill no more
than 11.2 million tonnes of biodegradable municipal waste by 2009-10
and less than half that by 2019-20.
The Government introduced a landfill tax in 1996 to encourage
local authorities, and industrial and commercial producers, to
reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill. The tax, currently
£24 per tonne, will rise by £8 a tonne each year from
April 2008 following the Chancellor of the Exchequer's last Budget
decision to accelerate the rate at which it escalates. In April
2005, the Government also introduced the Landfill Allowance Trading
Scheme, setting gradually reducing allowances for all disposal
authorities for the amount of municipal waste they may landfill.
Authorities under-using their allowances may trade any left over
with other authorities or bank it against the future; those which
exceed their allowance must pay fines of £150 a tonne. The
National Audit Office (NAO) has highlighted the risk that local
authorities could believe the Government unlikely to impose such
penalties because of the probable pressure on council tax levels,
but notes that DEFRA "has confirmed to us that penalties
will be imposed if allowances are exceeded".
14. Aside from the financial incentives and penalties,
the national shift towards greater recycling appears both to have
driven and been driven by growing public awareness. The Government-sponsored
WRAP, set up by DEFRA after the adoption of the Waste Strategy
2000, commissioned research in April 2006 that found 57 per
cent of people could be classed "committed recyclers",
validating the Community Recycling Network in saying: "The
public wants to recycle. They want to do the right thing environmentally".
15. The NAO has warned, however, that the increase
in waste recycled, while significant, has in effect merely allowed
us to stand still: "Local authorities recycled an additional
2.5 million tonnes of municipal waste between 1996-97 and 2005-06.
The increased recycling has been outweighed, however, by a 21
per cent increase in waste tonnage collected by authorities over
the same period".
DEFRA rightly notes that the total waste being produced is growing
less quickly both than it used to and than GDPdivorcing
growth in waste from economic growth was a key aim of the Waste
Strategy 2000but even at 0.5 per cent annual growth,
we still produce more domestic waste each year to collect and
get rid of.
16. Nearly 400 local authorities in England deal
with household waste. Collection and disposal responsibilities
were separated in the local government reorganisation of the 1970s,
and some 354 authorities, mostly district councils, collect our
refuse, while 121 authorities receive and dispose of it. Collection
and disposal jointly cost an estimated £2.4 billion in 2005-06.
17. Some witnesses queried whether collection and
disposal should continue to be treated as separate processes.
West Devon Borough Council, for example, argued that they are
"inextricably linked", while Shropshire Waste Partnership
raised the "potential problem of a mismatch" where collection
and disposal authorities take decisions independently of each
other. As the numerous
examples of practical joint working revealed by our evidence suggest,
local authorities are already acting together in some areas to
overcome such difficulties, and examples of both good and less
successful practice will be discussed in Chapter 6.
18. Central Government responsibility for waste policy
and strategy rests with DEFRA. The Government's Waste Strategy
for England 2007, issued on 24 May, includes new targets to
reduce the amount of household waste not re-used, recycled or
composted from the 18.6 million tonnes of 2005 to 15.8 million
tonnes in 2010. It also sets out new re-use, recycling and composting
targets40 per cent by 2010, 45 per cent by 2015, and 50
per cent by 2020.
19. DCLG has overall responsibility for local government,
including its financing. It is also responsible for planning policy
and is currently piloting through Parliament proposals allowing
for the future creation of Joint Waste Authorities where councils
choose to co-operate. The Government repeatedly made it clear
to us that the way in which policy is implemented should be as
far as possible a matter for the local authorities concerned.
The Minister for Waste told us: "we do not think it is the
role or job of central government to dictate to local authorities
how they meet those objectives [
] How local authorities
do it we believe is rightly up to them".
Nevertheless, DCLG is responsible for the local government performance
framework, currently being revised to identify 200 indicators
and 35 'local improvement targets', and the Government has signalled
that proposals are being developed on waste performance indicators
focusing on the amounts of municipal and household waste produced,
recycled and landfilled: "It is envisaged that one focus
for local improvement targets will be local authorities' performance
on the average amount of household waste per person that is not
re-used, recycled or composted".
20. We endorse the Government's clear indication
that it intends to include measures on waste among the 200 indicators
being developed for the new local government performance framework.
Given refuse collection's significance and high public profile,
we recommend that such indicators be priorities for inclusion
among the 35 'local improvement targets' identified for each authority.
21. Given the sheer number of bodies involved in
refuse collection and disposal in England, it is worth highlighting
three areas of potential tension. First, although DEFRA clearly
has full responsibility for setting waste policy and strategy,
DCLG is responsible both for the funding and the regulation of
the local authorities who, at least for municipal waste, put it
into practice. There is nothing unusual about Government departments
sharing responsibilities across policy areasDCLG in its
local government role alone must interact with the Department
for Education and Skills, with the Department for Health on social
care matters and with the Home Office on the local funding and
activities of the police and fire services, as just three examplesbut
it is worth stating the obvious fact that the two departments
need to interact appropriately if the Government's overall policy
goals are to be achieved.
22. Secondly, with central Government setting policy
that local government must implement, there is obvious scope for
tension over the level of autonomy afforded. The multiplicity
of authorities involved, vastly differing geographical, social,
economic and political factors in play, and highly varied ways
in which local authorities have come to exercise their responsibilities
all work against any risk of over-centralised control. The balance
of our evidence has stressed that local councils are best placed
to apply local solutions to local collection problems, and both
DEFRA and DCLG have strongly committed themselves to leaving authorities
to get on with the job. All the same, more than 350 authorities
each operating their own system cannot possibly take an overall,
holistic view of our growing waste problem. Central Government
remains best placed to give nationwide guidance on what needs
to be done, even if local authorities remain best placed to do
23. Thirdly, therefore, it is clear from the evidence
taken that the presence of 354 local authorities which collect
refuse may well mean there are in place up to 354 collection systems
of widely differing method, frequency and scope. While the Minister
for Waste is right to say devolution means local authorities making
their own decisions, it is equally right to note that numerous
witnesses have said, in effect, "If we were designing a system,
we wouldn't start from here".
The NAO has also suggested that significant savings might arise
if different authorities spent "less time reinventing the
endorse the autonomy of local authorities and recognise their
expertise in implementing the best solutions for their own areas.
The problems posed by waste collection and disposal are not, however,
confined within local governmental boundaries, and require a national
response driven by a clear vision energetically communicated from
central Government. We recommend that the Government commission
research to evaluate the best local collection, recycling, re-use
and reduction schemes operated by local authorities and to develop
a strategy to encourage their widespread adoption.
7 Richard Girling, Rubbish!, Eden Project Books,
(2005) p.2; and RC 44, Waste and Resources Action Programme memorandum,
printed in vol. II Back
DEFRA, Waste Strategy for England 2007. chart 1.2, p. 24
DEFRA, Municipal Waste Arisings in England 2000-01 to 2005-06,
and RC 47, DEFRA and DCLG joint memorandum, printed in vol. II Back
Environmental Data Services, Report 382, November 2006 Back
RC 28, Environment Agency memorandum, printed in vol II Back
DEFRA, Waste Strategy for England 2007, p. 23 Back
Q 210 Back
RC 47, DEFRA and DCLG joint memorandum, printed in vol. II Back
RC 31, National Audit Office memorandum, printed in vol. II Back
RC 43, Community Recycling Network memorandum, printed in vol.
NAO, Reducing the reliance on landfill in England, p. 3 Back
NAO, Reducing the reliance on landfill in England, p. 10 Back
RC 15, West Devon Borough Council memorandum, and RC 34, Shropshire
Waste Partnership memorandum, both printed in vol. II Back
DEFRA, Waste Strategy for England 2007, p. 103 Back
Q 212 Back
DEFRA, Waste Strategy for England 2007, p. 86 Back
Q 238 Back
National Audit Office, Reducing the reliance on landfill in
England, HC 1177, July 2006, p. 24 Back