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Identifying the issues in the way of a waste collection revolution

Last week a think tank, the New Local Government Network (NLGN) launched a report called Time to waste: tackling the landfill challenge. It calls for local authorities to take a strong lead on the debate of waste. The new report supports the idea of financial incentives to encourage recycling, recommends that local councils should invest in a new generation of energy-from-waste plants to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill and recommends slashing red tape and unifying local collection and disposal services.

The issue of introducing pay-as-you-throw household waste pilot schemes has been a contentious one. Several recent newspaper reports stated that Gordon Brown wanted to ditch the plans for fear of upsetting the public. The report says that householders should not be charged for the waste they put out because introducing penalising charges for waste will not assist in the amount of rubbish society throws way.

Under the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs proposals for the scheme, councils would be allowed to charge householders for their refuse by weight, or by the number of bin bags they leave out. Financial incentives are to be offered to householders who recycle more.  The proposals will allow councils to charge households taxes that could cost £100 if they put out more than a set amount of rubbish.

The report said: Rather than pursue potentially penalising charges for individual householders based on waste volumes, we recommend a community incentive and reward waste programme, where a discreet neighbourhood is rewarded with a communal grant if it over-performs collectively on waste-weight reduction and recycling. This would encourage community interaction and avoid the perverse behavioural issues, such as locks on bins or financial harm for larger families, that might arise from householder charging.

It also suggests that waste costs should be indicated as a separate item on council tax bills, to ensure that residents are aware of the cost of landfill and waste services. The report explained: The bill could indicate the levels of the waste collected and measured by recycling levels according to wards, in order to visually show the best or worst performing areas and associated cost that could have been saved.

Commenting on the NLGN report, Local Government Association chair Cllr Paul Bettison said: Financial incentive schemes should be exactly what they say on the tin. Any council that looks to introduce these measures will do so to promote recycling and reward local people who do their bit for the environment. No resident need lose out provided they are prepared to recycle.
There will be parts of the country where these schemes are not appropriate, but the final decision should be made by local councils in response to local need and in consultation with local people. The Governments lack of clarity about whether the pilot schemes will go ahead has been unhelpful.

The report also highlights the need for local authorities to build more Energy from Waste (EfW) plants - ranging from anything between 10 large-scale EfW plants to 200 smaller community anaerobic digestion facilities - to meet EU targets. It argues that councils should offer a £50 discount on energy bills to householders within communities that agree to host local EfW plants, with the financial surplus from electricity generated to be resold to the national grid. The suggestions come at a time when another think tank Policy Exchange has found that the Government is meeting the majority of its waste targets. It found that the Government has met 67% of its waste targets since 1997 but missed other green targets.

NLGN director Chris Leslie said: With landfill tax increasing year on year and some authorities spending millions of pounds dealing with the problem of rubbish disposal, it is clear the Government has to adopt a new approach to the challenge. None of the options we looked at are simple but switching away from burying rubbish to creating EfW is the greenest, most efficient solution.

The report also explains that local authorities should standardise local waste collection and disposal services, this will deliver joined up more strategic action, particularly among two-tier councils. It says that Government should provide clearer national guidance to help councils develop their waste infrastructure or introduce new technology because its lack of national guidance is acting as a barrier to quick and effective local action.

It concludes: As it currently stands, UK waste policy is stumbling against limitations of existing institutional structures, inflexible financial mechanisms, an uncoordinated approach and an inadequate public debate. Until basic strategic changes and decisions are made, the necessary political, public and market direction will not find traction to the extent necessary.

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