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News analysis: Lib Dems' environmental manifesto

The Liberal Democrats have made the environment central to their bid for power.

While Labour is concentrating on its economic record, and the Conservatives are focusing on immigration and public services, the Lib Dems are gunning for green votes.

Leader Charles Kennedy said this week: "The environment is at the heart of the Liberal Democrat election campaign.

"Action on the environment runs through our manifesto. It should underpin everything that government does. It is central to our thinking."

The party's election manifesto includes an ambitious promise to recycle 60% of household waste by 2012.

In contrast, Labour has set the UK a target of 33% recycling by 2015, and the Conservatives have not mentioned specific figures at all.

Little over 17% of household rubbish was recycled in 2003/4 but the Lib Dems believe massive change is possible.

The party's 60% target is just the first step in a manifesto promise to work towards zero municipal waste if it gets in power.

Kennedy said: "If Tony Blair had devoted even a tenth of the political energy, wealth and resources that have been expended over Iraq, to convince George Bush of the urgency of the environmental threat, imagine where we could be by now."

Incineration

The Liberal Democrat manifesto had bad news for councils and firms hoping to recover energy from waste.

"We will not allow new incinerators for municipal waste unless they can be shown to be the best environmental option after considering all alternatives, including new technologies such as pyrolysis and anaerobic digestion, where waste reduction and re-use are not possible," it says.

Labour published a study last year that declared incinerators posed no significant threat to human health.

Environment Minister Elliot Morley said the report should push local authorities to urgently approve planning applications for new waste management facilities.

But a Lib Dem spokesman said: "Research has shown that the dioxins from incinerators may have a harmful impact on human and animal health. Incinerators are yet to be proven as safe.

"We will follow a waste disposal hierarchy. Top of this is waste reduction. Following this, we will encourage waste re-use and then recycling."

But many people in the private and public sectors want to use incinerators to help divert waste from landfill sites.

Onyx Environmental Group chief executive Cyrille du Peloux said this year's review of Waste Strategy 2000 should encourage more incineration, rather than less.

"This policy review should make clear that energy-from-waste is acceptable and that we need more facilities," he said. "There needs to be a public awareness campaign to dispel the myth of health problems."

Fines

Another promise the Lib Dems have made is to clamp down harder on waste criminals. The level of fines for convicted fly-tippers has been in the spotlight recently.

Treasury advisor Philip Hampton, commissioned by the Government to review the work of regulators in the UK, found that puny penalties were encouraging waste firms to break the law.

Hampton's report cited one example of a waste firm that dumped thousands of tonnes of illegal waste over a 10-year period but was fined just £840 on conviction.

It concluded: "If penalties do not reflect the advantage gained by a company breaking the law, dishonest businesses are

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