As noted in the Waste Strategy for England 2007, the English are living beyond their environmental means. WWF have calculated that if every country consumed as many natural resources as are consumed in England then three planets would be needed to support us. Couple this with the fact that most useful products at some stage become a waste item to be disposed of then we face a real challenge.
The UK Government notes that better management of waste can contribute to:
The diagram below shows ‘the waste hierarchy’. The hierarchy incorporates the concept that ‘Reduction’ (prevention/minimisation) is better than ‘Reuse’, which in turn is better than ‘Recycling’, which is in turn is better than recovering energy by incineration which, finally, is better than disposal to landfill.
The Waste Hierarchy
The EU Landfill Directive (99/31/EC) was introduced in 1999 in response to the fact that some Member States still disposed to landfill more than 80% of their national waste. The Directive is intended to prevent or reduce the adverse effects of the landfill of waste on the environment, in particular on surface water, groundwater, soil, air and human health.
Among other targets, the EU Directive obliges Member States to progressively reduce the amount of organic waste going to landfill to 35% of 1995 levels by 2020.
The Waste Strategy for England 2007 considers that “reliance on landfill is already reducing and this should become the home of last resort for waste” (pg46). However, Government also recognise that landfill may continue to have a place for disposal of certain hazardous waste.
An important fiscal measure which is aimed at providing incentives for companies to reduce, reuse or recycle more is the landfill tax, and the associated tax escalator. The landfill tax is paid on every tonne or waste tipped into landfill sites – the revenues being spent by Government on waste reduction programmes. The escalator provides an acceleration of the tax to provide greater incentives for businesses to find alternatives to disposal.