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Landfill bans: what the industry thinks

A commitment to “banning recyclable and biodegradable materials from landfill” was included in the Labour party manifesto launched this month, following on from the Government’s consultation on landfill bans launched last month. What has been suggested is introducing landfill restrictions or bans on nine waste streams: paper and card, textiles, metals, wood, food, green waste, glass, plastics and waste electrical and electronic equipment.

The options for introducing new policy measures in the consultation include:

  • do nothing
  • introduce landfill bans either on their own or accompanied by a requirement for waste to be sorted
  • introduce a sorting or tougher pre-treatment requirement without a landfill ban
  • introduce producer responsibility requirements linked to recycling targets.

The deadline for responses to the consultation is June 10 2010. While some waste industry stakeholders are waiting until the outcome of the election, others have already formed strong views on the matter. MRW gathered some views on each of the options being mooted.

Do Nothing

Some in the sector question whether there is a need for any new legislation: “If a simple and easy to administer regulatory instrument such as the landfill tax is already working and producing the desired effect, for example, encouraging alternative waste infrastructure and separation of materials that have a positive value, then why introduce a complex, difficult to police regulation such as material-specific landfill bans?”asks Axion Recycling director Keith Freegard.

He questions the need to fix something that isn’t broken, adding that the enforcement agencies are already short on funds to carry out waste legislation enforcement. “Specific landfill bans seem like a short-term political goal and give people something to talk about in the pre-election run-up,” he says.

Others feel this is not the way forward. Speaking in a personal capacity, Association of London Cleansing Officers secretary Stephen Didsbury says:  “Doing nothing is not an option. If we do nothing, we will have difficulty meeting our targets - and we have got Landfill Directive and carbon targets to meet. But we have to have the funding to implement it.”

Introduce landfill bans either a) on their or b) accompanied by a requirement to sort

The consultation states that the restrictions are expected to stimulate the development of alternative waste infrastructure, boosting separate collections of waste and increasing the recycling and recovery of waste.

Friends of the Earth resource campaigner Julian Kirby says a landfill ban would make economic and environmental sense: “We are supportive of the lead proposition of landfill bans on specific materials with a requirement to sort. Obviously such bans would need to be phased in allowing enough time for the industry to adjust. But given that the UK burns and throws away a staggering £650m of valuable resources per year it would be no better if what is banned from landfill simply ends up being burnt instead. We also need a ban on the incineration of recyclable and re-useable materials.”

Burning plastic that you cannot send to landfill is no worse than burning oil

Dr Colin Brown, Institution of Mechanical Engineers

However, Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMeche) engineering director Dr Colin Brown says the IMeche agrees with option (b) and says that it would be good for materials that cannot be recycled to go into the energy from waste (EfW) combustion process. He says: “We have an opportunity to extract material that is currently going to landfill.  A landfill ban with sorting will offer the best chance to separate the waste streams of materials which are useful for energy generation. You can burn old wood, plastic and newspapers, which are of quality that is not good enough to recycle, in an EfW plant.”

He adds that “burning plastic that you cannot send to landfill is no worse than burning oil”.

Out of the nine waste streams suggested for a landfill ban, Brown says all the materials should go to EfW, except metals and glass.

Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) Energy and Environment Committee chairman David Caro however sounds a note of caution: “In theory we have no problems with a landfill ban as long as there is a suitable infrastructure in place to cope with the waste. Introducing the ban without this, as is currently the case, will just create more mess. If the ban is introduced, the FSB believes that it is essential to give the businesses and the waste and recycling industry enough lead time to develop a suitable treatment infrastructure that is financially accessible for small to medium-sized enterprises.

“Small firms have long suffered from not being able to access commercial recycling contractors due to the small volumes of waste they produce and this gap needs to be addressed urgently prior to any ban being implemented. The FSB believes that one way to quickly resolve this issue would be to open up civic amenity sites - rubbish dumps - to small businesses.”

Didsbury adds: “The landfill ban is good in principle but will need a lot of work to make it work. Landfill bans accompanied by a requirement to sort will be more effective because it will set a clear framework for what is required. But there will be issues over areas with a high proportion of flats and the ability for people to separate the waste streams easily.”

From a waste management company perspective, Sita external affairs director Gev Eduljee says a combination of the proposals would work best: “My preference would be for Landfill bans and Producer responsibility systems linked to recycling targets to operate together, because it sends a clear and unambiguous message as to what Government intentions are - both to waste generators, and to investors wanting policy and regulatory certainty.”

Introduce a sorting or tougher pre-treatment requirement but without a landfill ban

With question marks over the effectiveness of the existing pre-treatment regulations, industry insiders question whether this option will yield any real change.

Didsbury comments: “It might work if there is a minimum standard expected from the outcome of the sorting system.  The Pre-Treatment Regulations that were set up to address this issue are not delivering at the moment.”

He feels that the regulations need to be properly enforced in conjunction with a quality standard that the waste industry has to sign up to ensure that the quality of the materials being taken out of the waste stream is high.

Introduce producer responsibility systems linked to recycling targets

This option has generally been received positively. According to Friends of the Earth’s Kirby producer responsibility should be extended. “Toys and furniture would be a good place to start,” he says.

Packaging Federation chief executive Dick Searle agrees with the concept of landfill bans, and feels that anything that can be sensibly recycled should be banned from landfill. But he argues that the infrastructure needs to be put in place before a ban comes into play. His view is that consumer responsibility should not be separated from producer responsibility and that both systems should work hand in hand.

“We already have a producer responsibility system in the packaging waste recovery note (PRN) system. What is never questioned is that consumers create the demand. It is no good looking to industry to solve the carbon problem because it is a consumer carbon demand. Demand for products is created by demand from consumers but there is no responsibility put back on consumers,” he says.

What are your views on the landfill ban proposals? Email the team at: mrw@emap.com

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