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Environment Agency unveils new strategy for tackling tomorrow's waste

Helping businesses use resources more wisely and divert waste from landfill is set to be one of the Environment Agencys main areas of focus over the next five years.

It has launched its new corporate strategy Creating a better place 2010-2015 at its annual conference in London (10 November). To help businesses manage waste more efficiently the EA aims to develop and promote a better understanding of waste management options that protect the environment and human health and it also aims to work with the Waste & Resources Action Programme to encourage waste producers to take more responsibility for minimising their waste and reduce its impact. It also plans to make sure the right waste and resource management infrastructure is in place by providing support and advice to local, devolved, central Government and to regional bodies responsible for planning and delivering waste management infrastructure.

More than 330 million tonnes of waste is currently produced by the UK each year and more than half comes from the business and the construction sector. The EA estimates that companies could save up to £1 billion and divert 17m tonnes away from landfill over the next decade if they improve resource efficiency.

The strategy also outlines the three key waste-related challenges that are facing businesses over the next five years that need to be tackled including: hazardous waste, biodegradable waste, and waste crime. The EA wants hazardous waste to be designed out at source, it wants biowaste to be turned into energy through greater uptake of anaerobic digestion and it wants businesses to take more responsibility for the safe and lawful management of their waste.

Speaking at the launch of the strategy, Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said that in the next five years we are going to see fundamental changes in our world with a growing population and the issue of tackling emissions and adapting to climate change. He said that he would like to make the concept of waste obsolete by using the earths resources much more wisely than we have done in the past.

Benn said that waste was a challenge and a massive problem globally, nationally and locally.

He explained that it did not make sense to dump steel, glass, aluminium, wood, paper, plastic or food in the ground (see MRW story).

Speaking about landfill bans, Benn told MRW: We are currently looking at experience in other countries where they have had that [landfill bans]. I am not proposing that someone is going to stand at the gates of the landfill site and delve through every bag. Basically, its about the nation saying to itself we are not going to do this because it does not make sense. So, we have got to take a practical approach because we know that for the list of materials that I highlighted we can divert from landfill.

Benn also praised the EA for its important job on cracking down on waste crime, fly-tipping and illegal waste sites. The EA has dealt with 676 illegal waste dumping incidents in 2008-09 and brought 169 prosecutions. It has also confiscated £1.5m from waste criminals.

Benn said that its response to the Brazilian waste case was very important indeed.

EA waste and resources head Liz Parkes said that businesses must treat waste as a valuable resource. She added: Last year, the environmental costs of waste sent to landfill and incinerators in the UK rather than being recycled were £336m. But the latest estimates are that UK companies could save in the region of £6.4bn a year by using resources more efficiently. Collaborative work by the EA and WRAP to set new quality standards for waste recovery could result in 17m tonnes of waste being diverted and over 2m tonnes of carbon and 14 million tonnes of raw materials being saved.


Other EA successes:

  • Regulated companies have reduced the amount of waste they produce by 14 per cent since 2005;
  • More than 6m tonnes of packaging has been diverted from landfill between 1997 and 2008.

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