The disposal of waste in this country has been a longstanding problem for governments.
It has now been 18 years since the Conservatives published their Making Waste Work strategy, which set out plans for a landfill tax. When it was introduced back in 1996, the standard rate was just £7 per tonne. At the time, the Government hailed it as “the UK’s first tax with an explicit environmental purpose”.
Since then Labour, the Tories and now the coalition Government have continued to tackle the problem of landfill by raising taxes. You could argue that this approach, much like increasing fuel prices, is short-sighted and an easy way out of a longer term problem. But it has to be said that, overall, this pragmatic approach has forced people to think twice about what they bury in the ground.
However, one must question how long we can continue along the same path before ever-increasing taxes give rise to other problems, such as an increase in fly-tipping and the use of unlicensed waste disposal sites.
It is a difficult challenge, but the Government should be looking at alternatives. This should be along the lines of a landfill tax rebate for each tonne of material that is diverted away. It is always more effective to reward people for doing something good than punish them for doing something bad.
Aside from the issues of taxation and incentives, the Government should be giving more serious consideration to biomass projects that not only reduce materials going to landfill, but also play an important role in meeting the UK’s renewable energy targets.
In particular, the Government needs to adopt a more proactive approach to the development and funding of regional biomass plants to deal with the UK’s waste wood.
While recycling and energy markets for virgin wood have been growing in recent years, waste wood has been a largely overlooked resource. This is in part due to it often arising as a mixed waste stream, with the limited availability of resources for its segregation, and also as a result of its contaminated nature, which often makes recycling impractical. However, with around 10 million tonnes of waste wood being produced in the UK each year this is a seriously missed opportunity.
Mick Balch is managing director of L&S Waste Management