Fines needed to kick-start household waste cuts

Residual waste targets backed with fines, and making packaging producers pay for waste collection, are measures put forward by a DEFRA-commissioned report on household waste prevention.

Waste prevention targets could reduce household waste arisings by over 3 million tonnes if backed by fines, according to a report commissioned by the Environment Department (DEFRA).1Deepening producer responsibility – by making producers fund packaging waste collections – and requiring extended product warranties, could also have significant impacts on household waste prevention, it says.

The report, undertaken by a group including consultants Eunomia and The Environment Council, looks at the potential impact of 11 measures (see table).

It was undertaken on behalf of the National Resource and Waste Forum.

The report’s conclusions are based on an analysis of waste prevention measures across Europe. Successful measures were discussed by a workshop that included representatives from DEFRA, the then Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), the Environment Agency and the Waste and Resources Action Programme, as well as industry.

The three policies above were seen as “clear front runners” by the workshop. There was also support for setting minimum durability and light-weighting standards for household appliances and for including home composting in the government’s landfill allowance trading scheme.

The inclusion of home composting under LATS is currently under review (ENDS Report 389, p 43 ). Its exclusion is seen as encouraging green waste collections that lead to an increase in the volume of waste handled by local authorities.

Variable charging for waste collection was “the strongest policy to emerge from the research”, the report says, but is not considered in the report as it was the subject of other DEFRA work. DEFRA has just consulted on variable charging proposals (see p 50 ).

The report was written before the new waste strategy, which has since introduced some waste prevention measures. For example, the government has set a target to reduce residual household waste from 18.6 million tonnes in 2005 to 15.8 million tonnes in 2010, with aspirational targets for 2015 and 2020 (ENDS Report 389, pp 34-38 ).

Subject to consultation, it will also amend producer responsibility regulations to minimise packaging. However, the report goes much further than this in its recommendations.

Waste prevention targets could take the form of residual waste per capita targets for local authorities, the report says. These would tighten each year. These could be supported by fines for under-performance that would be rebated to over-performing authorities. The report recognises it would be difficult to set such a levy high enough to encourage action “without being unduly punitive”. It would also have to take into account other burdens on council’s waste departments like the landfill tax and LATS regime.

The simplest way to establish a levy could be to amend the recycling credits scheme, the report says. This would see waste disposal authorities paying waste collection authorities based on their residual waste performance rather than recycling performance.

Together, these measures could lead to waste prevention of 3 million tonnes – the highest of all 11 measures.

The Environment Department is considering setting residual waste targets for councils from 2010/11 to 2012/13 (ENDS Report 390, p 39 ). However, these would not include any form of levy.

In terms of tightening producer responsibility, the report focuses on packaging. It proposes setting higher targets than the packaging Directive’s for 2008 – although it does not specify by how much – and, more significantly, that producers should fund packaging collections from households.

Producers could either fund collections directly, or support them through fixed payments to local authorities “set at a level designed to support the full cost of packaging collections.” DEFRA has urged packaging companies to do this for some time due to the risk the UK might miss its targets, but they have so far steered clear (ENDS Report 372, pp 12-13 ).

According to the report, the burden of reducing packaging waste currently rests too much on local authorities. “As long as the costs of complying…do not fall entirely on producers, the incentive to alter behaviour [and minimise packaging] is diminished,” it says. Deepening producer responsibility could save 250,000 tonnes of waste, it claims.

Of the 11 measures proposed, many require further research. However, the report says some could be implemented fairly easily immediately. For example, ramping up policies aimed at reducing junk mail – by licensing suppliers or placing “no junk mail” stickers on letterboxes – could save from 119,000 to 223,000 tonnes of waste. These measures would also be “politically popular”, it says.

Other measures looked at by the report include charging for the collection of school waste. This would have the potential of saving over 100,000 tonnes of waste, although primary legislation would be needed to charge schools and require they have quality segregation systems.

Mandating the use of rechargeable batteries could save 20,000 tonnes of waste a year, it says.

At the back of all these measures should be so-called “implementation plans for waste prevention”, the report says. These include initiatives for waste prevention, and are developed for individual waste streams by stakeholder groups.

A “waste prevention policy unit” should be formed in government “to coordinate work on waste prevention”, it adds. While different departments and agencies like WRAP have some responsibility for waste prevention they lack “coordination” and “strategic focus”.

Prevention is top of the waste hierarchy and should be accorded more importance in government.

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