Ministers in a muddle over ban on sending food waste to landfill
Former environment secretary Lord Deben (Con) faces a tough challenge after being appointed to chair a high-level committee charged with working out how to eradicate food waste from landfill by 2020.
As well as the environmental benefits, a ban on food waste from landfill would give the fledgling anaerobic digestion industry a huge boost by providing the economic certainty required to entice investors.
The Anaerobic Digestion & Biogas Association has long called for a ban on food waste to landfill, which would secure the feedstock for its growing industry.
But recent comments by ministers suggest the new committee, which includes members from the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management, PDM, Eunomia, Institute of Hospitality, Unilever, and Wrap, faces a stiff challenge.
No sooner was the ink dry on the government’s waste review last June, which pledged to investigate banning biodegradables from landfill, than ministers appeared to rule it out, leading to a somewhat confusing policy picture (see box below).
During a House of Commons debate last week, energy minister Charles Hendry (Con), re-asserted his opposition to a centrally imposed outright ban, saying the decision should be taken locally.
“At the end of the day, however, we want the local authorities to be the driving force in resolving [food waste] issues,” he said.
Handing responsibility to councils may chime well with the localism agenda but Hendry and his colleagues may find the issue cannot be brushed aside quite that easily.
A burgeoning coalition of MPs, local authorities and waste industry figures are calling for a ban and warning England will be left behind by other parts of the UK if swift action is not taken. Scotland, for example, plans to ban food waste from landfill by 2020.
Joy Blizzard, Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee chair and Deben panel member, said: “LARAC has not come to a joint position on this yet but I do worry that England will become the laggards and be left behind once again by the devolved administrations.
“Government needs to provide leadership and put a framework in place and then local authorities can provide the delivery.”
Caroline Nokes, Conservative MP for Romsey and Southampton North, who secured last week’s House of Commons debate on renewable energy, told MRW: “I appreciate the difficulties associated with eliminating food from the waste stream entirely.
“However, that does not mean we should not try, and most local authorities are very conscious of the problems created by food waste.”
The resulting practical changes which would be required to implement such a ban are not to be underestimated.
The Scottish Government proposals to ban a number of materials from landfill, including source segregated food, glass and plastic among others, outlined plans for a “requirement to sort” to be implemented before corresponding landfill ban.
Scotland’s efforts will be closely watched but if Lord Deben’s desire to eradicate food waste from landfill by 2020 is going to given a fighting chance, it will require similarly bold proposals to be rolled out south of the border as well.
Are ministers united on food waste policy?
Energy minister Charles Hendry said last week local authorities should decide whether or not to landfill food waste rather than government issuing a diktat.
This is not the first time the Department of Energy & Climate Change minister has made such remarks.
While it chimes well with the government’s localism agenda it appears to pour cold water on Defra’s waste review’s pledge to “review the case for restrictions” on landfilling biodegradable waste. But a DECC spokesman insisted the statement was compatible with the Defra review.
“Putting food waste into landfill is widely condemned but the point the minister was making is that it would be preferable for local authorities to be the driving force in resolving this issue,” he said.
However, if councils are left to form the policy, what is to stop individual authorities deciding they do want to landfill food waste? Moreover, even local authorities themselves have called leadership from ministers on the issue.
This week, a Defra spokeswoman insisted to MRW: “We don’t want any food waste to go to landfill and we will be reviewing the case for landfill restrictions for biodegradable waste.”