Monday, 16 December 2002

Waste Training Day

A dull November morning saw a Sheffield Friends of the Earth member make her way to Birmingham to receive up to the minute information about waste disposal.

The initial address was about International and European legislation and its bearing on the situation in U.K.  The Earth Summit included a paragraph (Point 22) about waste, to the effect that Governments should act to develop systems to prevent, minimise, reuse and recycle waste.  Environmentally sound disposal facilities should be used but unfortunately this, according to the agreement, includes technology to recapture the energy contained in waste.  The production of reusable consumer goods and biodegradable products is to be encouraged.

The main piece of legislation affecting U.K. policy at the moment is the European Union Landfill Directive the gist of which is that by 2020, 66% of biodegradable waste (garden, food and paper waste etc) should not be taken to landfill sites.  Instead it should be composted rather than incinerated.  This means that nearly all local authorities will have to have separate biodegradable waste collections by 2010. 

The East Midlands Waste Strategy plans to incinerate 50% of household waste and use all the resulting bottom ash to make construction materials.  This is not good news as it is assuming that only 50% of the rest of waste will be recycled.  Incineration contracts tie Local Authorities to providing waste to burn for 20 or more years. 

Friends of the Earth is certain higher recycling targets can be achieved:- 50% by 2010 and 75% by 2015.  Daventry in Northamptonshire already achieves almost 50%.  The first step to increasing recycling rates is to provide a doorstep recycling service.  Friends of the Earth are currently trying to get the Doorstep Recycling Bill through parliament.  This will make it compulsory for all Local Authorities to provide a recycling bin as well as the ordinary waste bin.  Reducing the size of the ordinary bin also reduces the amount of unrecycled (i.e. residual) waste.  Once all these services are in place, charging for residual waste can begin, which further increases recycling rates.  Friends of the Earth recommends that the remaining residual waste should undergo mechanical biological treatment (MBT).  This process separates recyclable materials mechanically and puts the mixed waste containing biodegradable material through a composting process to produce a stabilised material.  This can then be landfilled.  Local Authorities should find MBT an attractive technology as it is a small scale process that is cheaper than pyrolysis.

As items are manufactured more carefully with recycling in mind, the amount of waste needing to be landfilled will approach zero.  For a sustainable future all Regional Waste Strategies should be aspiring to ‘zero waste’.

More information about the Waste Campaign can be found on the Friends of the Earth website at www.foe.co.uk