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Long may landfill tax keep on growing

Trelawney Dampney

…on the importance of the tax to alter recycling behaviour

The landfill tax, introduced in 1996, has been the biggest driver of behavioural change in the waste sector in the past decade. And it has plenty more to contribute if the Government continues to support the tax in its drive for increased recycling and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

No other initiative has come close to achieving what the landfill tax has achieved during the past 15 years. Its impact had a slow start while levels were low but, in the past few years, has increased exponentially and I hope there are more rises to come.

We live in a capitalist society where money is the great arbiter, and nothing affects human behaviour more so than money - or the lack of it. There have been other attempts to change society’s behaviour such as the Landfill Allowance Trading Scheme (LATS), recycling targets and the formation of WRAP. But none of these has had the impact of the tax - apart from feathering the beds of the consultants who flourish in our industry.

The success of landfill tax can be seen when you consider the following.

“Nothing affects human behaviour more so than money - or the lack of it”

LATS is not meeting expectations because the increased recycling level of biodegradable material was driven by the rising cost of disposal through landfill tax. Heavy biodeg- radable waste material was targeted by local authorities as a way to minimise disposal costs, and so LATS was no longer relevant. This can be verified by the low costs of purchasing the initiative’s credits.

Recycling targets were treated as a ‘nice to have’ but not an essential measure of a council’s performance. They were supported up to a point, but when the choice was to keep schools open or improve recycling, not surprisingly councils favoured the former.

WRAP has helped to mould the industry for the better but has not in itself increased recycling substantially. Capital grants have cut the amount councils have to pay for some recycling services, so encouraging a slightly quicker take-up. And its R&D work has opened up new markets and steered products towards higher value-added applications. This work would have been undertaken by industry but at a much slower pace.

Landfill tax is now at £56 per tonne and will rise to £80 per tonne in 2014. After that, the Government should carry on increasing it by at least another £15 per tonne each year until at least 2020, pushing the cost of disposal to about £190 per tonne.

This level of tax will ensure that most businesses start recycling most of their waste, something that they are not doing now because it is still too cheap to ‘throw it all in one bin’.

With a higher level, local authority and commercial disposal services will maximise front-end (at the point of collection) and back-end (MRF) recycling. This will result in higher recycling rates, better utilisation of our national carbon resource and a sustained revenue stream for the hard-pressed Treasury.

It can also be presented as part of the coalition’s green mandate and will have broad public support providing it is sold correctly. It will also drive recycling in the commercial sector.

Naturally, industry and local authorities will plead poverty during times of austerity. But increasing the tax will change their behaviour simply because money talks.

Trelawney Dampney is managing director of Eco Sustainable Solutions

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