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Green dreams study finds UK is waking up to waste challenges

Good news in the press and on TV has been in short supply in recent weeks but a new report by think tank Policy Exchange has been the bearer of good news for the waste and recycling sector. The report, Green dreams: a decade of missed targets, says that the Government is likely to miss more than half of the green targets it has set since 1997 apart from those concerning waste.

Green dreams says the Government is on course to meets its targets for reducing waste 67% of targets (18 out of 27) have been or are likely to be met. For example, the report shows that the Government is likely to meet its recycling and composting target of at least 40% by 2010, 45% by 2015 and 50% by 2020 goals which were set in last years waste strategy. The study also says that the Government is set to meet EU Landfill Directive targets by reducing the volume of municipal waste sent to landfill by 2010.

The Waste Strategys target to reduce the amount of waste not re-used, recycled or composted from more than 22.2 million tonnes in 2000 by 29% to 15.8 million tonnes in 2010 are also likely to be met, according to the report.

But the messages contained in the report are not all positive. The goal of reducing the environmental impact of single use shopping bags by 25% by the end of 2008 is unlikely to be met and the intention to double the use of combined heat and power by 2010 is unlikely to be achieved.

A Defra spokeswoman said: We are pleased the report has recognised the success weve had in meeting waste targets but there is no room for complacency. We still have challenging targets ahead and we need to up our game even further. There is a role for local and central Government, industry and the public in making this happen.

The matter of targets and whether they achieve change has provoked debate. Like educational SATs, some people feel that when you focus on targets you overlook the basic issues.

Friends of the Earth campaigns assistant Becky Slater said: Targets are very important and we need to have ambitious ones. We believe that recycling targets are not ambitious enough. Having statutory targets will definitely provide an incentive to local authorities to make investments in more sustainable forms of waste management.

Although the figures look good, we have to remember that the main driving factor behind this success seems to be the Landfill Directive, which has forced Government to introduce the Landfill Allowance Trading Scheme (LATS). Local authorities also have to provide homes with kerbside waste recycling units.While it is good that we are increasing our recycling targets we have a very long way to go. A lot of recycling is done in Europe, which in some countries reaches 60%. We only have 30% in the UK and we have got to take on board the fact that we have  a long way to go and keep up momentum.

The report from the Policy Exchange criticises a UK culture of target setting and says that targets are often set in the absence of a strong policy commitment to turn plans into action. University of Southampton school of civil engineering and the environment director of education Dr Ian Williams has said that the waste targets were relatively easy to achieve in the first place. He said: We are still behind most (economically) comparable countries in terms of recycling or composting rates and diversion from landfill. In effect, waste was a low hanging fruit.

To be fair, the Government has put a lot of effort into addressing waste-related issues over the past 10 years, by establishing Best Value Performance Indicators, the Waste & Resources Action Programme and the Landfill Allowance Trading Scheme.

Williams added that it was important to note that for a decade prior to the Landfill Directive the Government set volun-tary targets for local authorities and industry but these were largely ignored. He also criticised industry and Government for ignoring the growing body of evidence available that could help improve collection rates.

The waste sector pays little attention to the increasingly strong research base provided by UK and international researchers. Even key Government reports cite the Daily Mail or the Guardian more frequently than peer-reviewed academic papers. This is frankly astonishing given that the research is often funded by UK research councils or Defra and the Government has a much vaunted evidence-based policy approach. The waste industry moves more slowly than a tortoise pulling an articulated lorry.                   



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