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Featrure: Can one size ever fit all?

Despite the news that England exceeded the 17% recycling and composting target for 2003/04, statistics show rates that vary wildly from council to council, with Lichfield recycling 46% of household waste but Liverpool managing only 4%. Some say this disparity has tarnished the progress made towards a national target of 25% by 2005/06.

The figures for individual authorities show that half of the eight worst performers in the recycling table are in inner cities: Liverpool and three London boroughs – Tower Hamlets (5%), Newham (6%) and Hackney (7%). These poor performances reflect the difficulties faced by many authorities in inner cities. Nevertheless, Margaret Beckett, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, has warned that such poor performing local authorities will face action, stating that single-figure recycling rates are “no longer acceptable”.

The Government admits that national and European waste management targets are tough, and last December agreed to reduce the new penalty for failing to comply with requirements to divert biodegradable waste from landfill. Under the Landfill Allowance Trading Scheme, the penalty was reduced from £200 a tonne to £150, payable from April. However, the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC), which represents 95% of local authorities, is disappointed that Beckett has ruled out the possibility of bringing in variable charging for household waste in the foreseeable future.

LARAC believes that the recent improvements in recycling rates, achieved by giving local authorities the freedom to provide local solutions, demonstrate that one size does not always fit all. Furthermore, the committee is concerned by the prospect of the Government passing on fines from Brussels for failing to meet its Landfill Directive targets to local authorities.

Lee Marshall, chairman of LARAC, is aware that variable charging would need to be handled carefully, but believes that members should be given the choice to implement either direct charges or some sort of reward scheme. “We have long maintained that there should be local solutions to national issues,” he says. “While we need a national framework in which to work, there should be flexibility and room for individual local authorities to manoeuvre to suit local conditions.”

For many local authorities facing the prospect of fines, incineration may appear a more attractive solution – notwithstanding the likelihood of local opposition.

Marshall says that incineration and other technologies do have a role in waste management, “but rather than saying one technology is bad or good, the question is whether it is right for the circumstances”.

It has been claimed that the Landfill Allowance Trading Scheme will encourage local authorities to either build incinerators or buy credits from councils that have excess through operating incinerators. Pete Cockburn, community recycling officer for Breckland District Council, argues that trading allowances are not environmentally sound: “The whole point is to reduce waste, and it is unacceptable for some councils to buy in allowances.”

One council working towards major reductions in waste is Lancaster City Council. According to Jenny Loydall, waste and cleansing manager, the council hopes to achieve its target of recycling or composting 18% of its waste by 2005/06. Lancaster, which will be represented at a local authority seminar focusing on contaminated land at International Clean Up, h

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