TERRY DIGNAN: Our green and pleasant
land is where we dump our rubbish. Environmentally unsound, yes, but it's
cheap. Here on the Isle of Wight as elsewhere space for landfill is running
out. Just as well because it produces methane - a powerful greenhouse
gas. Now Europe warns the UK - change your ways or be fined.
We put thirty million
tonnes of rubbish annually into our dustbins and we bury most of it in
landfill sites like this one. The rate at which we are producing rubbish
is growing all the time and we must find more environmentally-sensitive
ways of dealing with the problem. But that would require tough action
by a brave government.
MICHAEL MEACHER MP This is an extremely important
issue for this country. We cannot go on increasing the level of waste by
three or four per cent a year because it will double within a period of
twenty years or so. That is simply not sustainable, we've got to change
DIGNAN; Compared to other EU countries
the United Kingdom sends a vast amount of household rubbish to landfill
- seventy-eight per cent. In France the figure is forty-nine per cent and
in Holland just twelve per cent is dumped in the ground. Our Government
is pledged to drastically cut the amount of waste going to landfill.
Barbara Foster is an elected
councillor on the Isle of Wight where nearly a third of waste goes to recycling
or composting. She separates food and garden waste as well as paper and
glass. The EU Landfill Directive requires a cut in the amount of biodegradable
waste going to landfill by nearly half in the next ten years and by two
thirds within twenty. Biodegradables include everything from cotton and
cardboard to woollen socks and baked beans. They'll have to be treated
differently - at considerable extra cost.
PETER JONES Waste will either be processed
biologically, for soil manufacture and compost, where it could be converted,
not by necessarily direct combustion, but it could be converted to energy,
or obviously in the case of recycling, where it has to be recovered and
reused in its original form, particularly in the case of glass packaging
and plastics and so forth.
DIGNAN; But our record in recycling
municipal waste is poor compared to other EU countries. In Holland forty-seven
per cent is recycled but in England and Wales only eleven per cent. Scotland
recycles just four per cent. The Government's target is thirty-three per
cent by 2015. The Government's think tank, The Strategy Unit, has been
asked by ministers to come up with ideas for achieving this figure.
Every year in this country
we use more than six billion glass containers and most of them are not
recycled. Indeed some local authorities manage to recycle just one per
cent of all the rubbish they collect. The problem is that burying and
burning waste is cheaper than recycling and we are still waiting for the
Government's answer to this dilemma.
MEACHER: We can look at deposit
and return systems for glass or other kinds of containers. We are looking
at that at the present time. And of course, one can always give fiscal
incentives for recyclers, that's a matter for the Chancellor, but of course
those are options if we need to improve that recycling rate.
DIGNAN We could get nearly all
our glass from recycled bottles, so the Chancellor, Gordon Brown is being
told, make recycling more competitive by massively increasing the tax on
dumping rubbish in the ground. Currently councils pay thirteen pounds
a tonne in landfill tax.
KAY TWITCHEN: I think until we do have
a higher landfill tax, we are always going to be too land fill dependent,
as a cheap option. So the effect of a landfill tax and increase would be
to equalise the costs of landfill with the costs of other processes, like
recycling, which is very expensive to do. And you then have a more level
JONES: Our view was that it came
in at seven pounds, when it should have started at fifteen, and today,
we're advocating that nothing much will happen in this area until land
fill taxes in the UK match those in Europe, and I'm talking there about
thirty five, forty, forty-five pounds per tonne, compared to thirteen pounds
per tonne at the moment.
DIGNAN; Local authorities hand
over hundreds of millions of pounds a year to the Treasury for using landfill
sites to dump the rubbish they collect. Increasing this tax will hit them
hard. They'd like the money back to pay for a huge increase in recycling.
TWITCHEN It's very expensive at
the moment and a lot of local authorities are not doing it, simply because
it is expensive. Now if they've then got to pay extra landfill tax, as
well as being expected to provide all the gear that will make recycling
work, I don't think we've got a hope of meeting the terms of the directive.
DIGNAN; One answer is to burn more
of our rubbish as many other European countries do. While England and Wales
burn just eight per cent or municipal waste, in Holland thirty-four per
cent goes to incinerators, in Denmark fifty-five per cent, but many here
want to tax incineration.
JACOBS: If you build a massive
incinerator, it needs massive amounts of waste, and then there is an incentive
for the local authority which runs the incinerator to encourage more waste.
ACTUALITY. "Britain's not for burning.
Britain's not for burning."
DIGNAN: Outside DEFRA, the Department
for the Environment, protestors demonstrate against incinerators. They
believe ministers want many more of them - because burning is cheaper than
recycling. Despite much stricter controls over emissions of harmful dioxins,
few want an incinerator in their area.
SUE DOUGHTY MP: Incineration is a vote loser across
all parties. Now no MP will be able to stand up with confidence and say
I support incineration, and expect to retain the seat. I think it's as
strong as that.
MEACHER: There will be some increase
in incinerators. Some people say the government has a figure in its back
pocket as to what it intends. That is complete rubbish, if I could use
that word. It's totally untrue.
DIGNAN; Most of us say we want
to save our environment but it doesn't stop us from filling our bin bags
with more and more of this rubbish. Perhaps the time has come to make us
pay for all this. The government is considering a dustbin tax and even
a tax on the plastic bags we use for our shopping, the only thing is -
these taxes may not be terribly popular.
As we grow richer, so
we waste more. Perhaps coercion is the only solution. The Government's
Strategy Unit has been to Ireland where taxing plastic bags has had dramatic
effects. It's also looking favourably at allowing councils to charge householders
for rubbish collections. Environment ministers like this idea too.
MEACHER; They are already paying
for it through their council tax. The problem with that is we're all paying
the same amount. So, if you generate a very little level of waste, say
twenty pounds, or some - twenty pounds worth in weight or something like
that, someone else generates two hundred pounds worth in weight, both pay
the same amount, even though it costs ten times more to dispose of one
compared to the other. The rationale for the proposal which we're certainly
looking at, is that people should pay in some way related to the waste
that they generate.
DIGNAN; At the Island Waste Depot
on the Isle of Wight another load of rubbish arrives to be separated for
recycling. It's argued a dustbin tax might be more acceptable to voters
if, in return for putting aside much more of our rubbish for recycling,
we were exempted from paying the charge.
TWITCHEN; If people only have to
pay for the stuff they throw away, if they have the option to put their
bottles and bags and glass and stuff out for recycling, and they just have
to pay a reasonable charge for the residual waste, I think most people
would go along with that.
DIGNAN; On the Isle of Wight they
try to extract anything that can be recycled even after the bin bags have
been collected. The suggestion we should be taxed for the rubbish we produce
might be put out for consultation when Mr Brown makes his pre budget statement.
But some of those who support taxes on waste say charging householders
JACOBS: It would seem to me that
to have a system in which householders are charged per bag would require
very strong elements of civic responsibility, so that the vast majority
of people simply felt they were willing to pay the charge and they wouldn't
fly tip. I'm not sure whether we've got that.
DIGNAN; Separated waste is transported
to its next stop in the recycling process. We may have to spend three
billion pounds on plants like this to rely less on landfill. Wouldn't
it be better for manufacturers to stop producing waste in the first place?
Shouldn't they have to pay extra taxes?
JACOBS: We need to be moving further
up the production stream, so that we're saying to firms, why are you producing
this waste in the first place. Why have you got so much packaging on these
products, and if firms can do that, then you'll find that consumers don't
have the waste and you've reduced the problem at source.
DIGNAN; Even if the Strategy Unit
recommends using taxation to cut down on all this waste, there's a political
risk as the fuel tax protests showed two years ago, yet some ministers
believe tackling the ever-growing problem of waste requires bold action.
MEACHER: We need to incentivise
people, it's much better to give people incentives than to penalise them,
but we do have to say that in the last resort, you cannot continue to do
DIGNAN; On the Isle of Wight the
garden clippings are prepared for composting. This is the future of waste
management - or so it could be. First the Government must decide whether
to take some tough decisions because digging holes in the ground to dispose
of our rubbish is no longer an option.