Local authorities allocated final landfill allowances

Allowances limiting the amount of biodegradable municipal waste that waste disposal authorities (WDAs) can send to landfill were issued by the Environment Department (DEFRA) in February.1 DEFRA plans to release details shortly of a "flexible" approach that could be applied to WDAs in areas of rapid population growth such as the Thames Gateway where municipal waste volumes are likely to increase correspondingly.

The first year of the landfill allowance trading scheme starts on 1 April - only a few weeks away. Proposed allowances for English WDAs were issued for consultation last August, but it is only now that authorities know their allowances for sure.

A spreadsheet listing the allowances for each authority for each year up to 2020 has been posted on DEFRA's website, together with documents explaining the basis on which they were calculated. Powers to issue such allowances are included in section 4(1) of the Waste and Emissions Trading Act 2003.

In the event, DEFRA has decided not to change the allocation method from that proposed last year. However, corrections made by some authorities to their baseline data for 2001/02 have resulted in a 1% net increase - some 130,000 tonnes - in the amount of BMW sent to landfill that year compared with the amount assumed in the provisional allocation. The subsequent reduction in allowances has been allocated equally to all WDAs.

DEFRA accepts that areas with potentially high population growth will find the allocations "particularly challenging". But such predictions do not "provide a sufficiently certain basis for allocating allowances" and allowances that took account of growth or reduction in population might have to be revised repeatedly.

Moreover, says DEFRA, the waste arisings "can vary considerably with social structure and domestic habits which suggests that housing or population are not necessarily strong or consistent indicators of municipal waste arisings."

However, DEFRA is considering whether it is possible "to be flexible when dealing with the additional waste generated by population growth," and hopes to issue more details shortly.

The Government also considered changing the baseline year to 2002/03 when the start of the trading scheme was put back 12 months to April 2005. But it decided that doing so would generate fewer allowances for authorities which had begun to divert waste from landfill in anticipation of the scheme starting in 2004.

The Government points out that if an authority has increased its landfill rate since 2001/02 for reasons beyond its control and faces the prospect of being fined for exceeding its allowances, it can appeal to the Secretary of State. Guidance on the circumstances in which DEFRA might consider waiving a penalty is due shortly.

A request for additional allowances to be allocated to help authorities develop collection services for commercial waste has been rejected because the Government could not be sure that authorities would start such collections, and because it has no evidence on which to base such allocations.

Conversely, some authorities that collect commercial waste have considered selling off the services to ease compliance with their allowances - only to be warned by DEFRA that doing so might be in breach their legal duty to collect such waste (ENDS report 357, p 47).

Some authorities remain on course to benefit from a windfall from the sale of surplus allowances thanks to their existing contracts with incinerators (ENDS Report 355, pp 17-18 ).

Meanwhile, the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee is concerned at the discrepancy between the landfill diversion targets for biodegradable waste that the scheme places on disposal authorities, and the recycling and composting targets placed on all authorities.

LARAC suggests that collection authorities' recycling targets could be replaced with targets to reduce the amount of non-segregated refuse, or "residual waste", collected from households. This, it says, would encourage collection authorities to divert green and kitchen waste out of the household waste stream, rather than collect more dry recyclables, such as glass and cans, which do not contribute to the BMW allowances.

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