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Biodegradable waste landfill ban could cost Scotland £1.15bn

Lack of preparedness for dealing with Scotland’s ban on landfilling biodegradable municipal waste could cost up to £1.15bn, a report has warned.

Despite this finding, and a lack of adequate preparation by more than half of Scotland’s councils, the Scottish Government reiterated its commitment to the ban, which is due to take effect in 2021.

The study for the Scottish Government by consultancy Eunomia concluded that so little had been done to prepare for the ban that waste was likely to go to landfill sites in England or be exported, both with significant costs.

Eunomia’s report found: “The alternative waste management options that will be needed may not be available at sufficient scale or at an affordable price at the point when the ban commences.”

Of Scotland’s 32 local authorities, only 14 – accounting between them for 744,000 tonnes of waste – had invested enough to have the capacity needed available.

Nine councils – with 315,000 tonnes of waste between them – had no alternative arrangements in place, while the remaining nine had partial solutions for handling 276,000 tonnes.

Eunomia’s modelling showed there will be insufficient residual waste treatment to deal with waste generated once the ban is put in place, with a gap of around 1-1.2 million tonnes.

“Commercial waste operators do not appear yet to have made adequate preparations for the ban,” it said.

“Where strategies are in development, they are primarily focused on transporting waste, either to landfill or treatment infrastructure in northern England or into thermal treatment capacity abroad.”

Landfill capacity in England or continental Europe was mostly already in use, “making it challenging for Scottish waste collectors to secure capacity without incurring significant additional costs”, while landfills in northern England were likely to become full as early as 2025 if they accepted large volumes of Scotland’s waste.

Depending on different scenarios examined and on how much recycling increased, Eunomia put the additional cost of the landfill ban at between £414m and £1.15bn caused by a combination of higher gate fees and greater reliance on exports. But it added that prices would lower in the medium term if additional incinerators were built in Scotland or higher levels of recycling were achieved.

The Scottish Environmental Services Association said the industry had invested in around 950,000 tonnes of additional treatment capacity ahead of the ban, but “a lacklustre residual waste policy framework coupled with an unco-ordinated approach to public procurement has proved the greatest hurdle to securing the additional investment needed to close the capacity gap further”.

Its policy adviser Stephen Freeland said: “To unlock investment in sufficient non-landfill capacity, the industry needs more commitment from the Scottish Government than a fleeting reference to the landfill ban within regulation.

“This investment is reliant upon a strong and enabling waste policy framework for non-recyclable waste which has, up to now, been sadly lacking.

“We suggest that the Scottish Government provides details of a long-term infrastructure and investment plan for Scotland to allow private and public sector partners to adequately identify options for appropriate development.”

Laura Tainsh, head of waste and environment at law firm Davidson Chalmers, said industry soundings suggested the Scottish Government was still committed to the landfill ban, but might be open to a transition period.

Steven Heddle, environment and economy spokesperson for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, said: “We have been recognising for some time the challenges that the ban presents to local authorities and the wider commercial waste sector in Scotland.

“The report confirms this, and we are working with our 32 local authorities and the Government to find a pragmatic way forward.”

Despite Eunomia’s findings, a Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Government is committed to ending the practice of sending biodegradable municipal waste to landfill.

“This will contribute to progress on climate change targets and increase incentives to deal with waste in a more sustainable way. We have been working closely with local authorities and commercial bodies to assess and support progress towards implementing the ban.

“Our focus now is on working with authorities who do not yet have a solution in place to identify ways, such as collaborative procurement and improved recycling, in which they can comply with the ban.”

The Chartered Institution of Wastes Management Scotland’s vice-chair Bruce Reekie said it had set up a working group to seek solutions.

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