Aggregates levy mooted to boost recycling of construction wastes

For the second time in three years, a report for the Department of the Environment (DoE) has come out in favour of a levy on primary aggregates to boost the use of recycled materials. The new report on the management of demolition and construction waste also proposes a recovery target, and recommends that developers be required to seek official approval for their waste management proposals.1

In 1991, the DoE published a consultant's report into options for reducing demand for primary aggregates and stimulating the use of secondary and recycled materials (ENDS Report 199, pp 19-20). However, it chose to ignore the report's recommendation for a levy on primary materials.

Last April, the DoE produced new planning guidance on minerals extraction which set a target for increasing the use of secondary aggregates from 32 million tonnes in 1992 to 55 million tonnes by 2006 (ENDS Report 231, pp 40-41 ). The aggregates industry was asked to come up with proposals to meet the target.

The latest report for the DoE, by Howard Humphreys & Partners, looks at the options for boosting recycling of demolition and construction wastes. It too has concluded that a subsidy for recycled materials or a levy on primary aggregates may well be needed to overcome barriers to recycling. These include the low prices of primary material which make much existing recycling a "financially marginal" operation, and also developers' concerns - "however ill-founded" - about potential liabilities arising from the use of secondary materials.

The UK produces an estimated 70 million tonnes of demolition and construction wastes each year. At present, the report estimates, only 2.8 million tonnes (4%) undergoes high-level processing to produce secondary aggregate. A further 29% goes to low-level uses on or near the site of arising.

Some 5.0 million tonnes of waste goes to unlicensed disposal, which includes use of soils on farms and an unknown amount of illegal dumping.

A survey of waste regulation authorities suggested that 42 million tonnes (60%) of the waste arisings go to landfill each year, at typical disposal costs of only £1-2 per tonne. Half of the material is used in "landfill engineering", which includes haul and access roads, construction of cells and waste cover - though the latter use will be discouraged by forthcoming guidance on landfill practices (ENDS Report 238, pp 29-31 ). The report differs from the DoE's minerals planning guidance in classing this form of use in landfills as "recycling".

Material going to landfill includes an estimated 8.0 million tonnes per year of brick and concrete. Of this, 2-4 million tonnes is clean and could readily be recycled. The remaining 4-6 million tonnes could be recycled if it was treated to separate the components - or, more effectively, segregated at source. Some 19 million tonnes of soil, 7 million tonnes of sand and gravel and 2 million tonnes of bituminous materials also go to landfill and "may have potential for recycling".

Overall, the report warns that "additional quantities which can be diverted from landfill must not be over-estimated". However, it recommends a target of 75% "recycling" by 2005, representing an increase of 8.7 million tonnes per year. It also calls for the amount of graded secondary aggregate produced from demolition and construction wastes to be doubled to 5.0 million tonnes.

The report suggests strongly that financial intervention will be needed to meet these targets. A detailed consideration of the options was outside the study's remit. However, the report points out that a subsidy on secondary aggregates or a levy on demolition would run into problems of definition and administration - and the latter option would increase the cost of recycled material.

The Government recently announced plans for a landfill levy (ENDS Report 238, pp 3-4 ), which, the report says, will make recycling more attractive. The construction industry is expected to lobby for exemption from the levy on the grounds that much of its waste is inert. The report also says that even with a levy, landfill operators will continue to have a considerable need for construction wastes - and, it asserts, may reduce prices or even pay to take them.

Overall, the report stops just short of recommending a levy on primary aggregates. But it points out that Denmark already has such a levy as part of an "impressive" commitment to recycling which includes restrictions on landfilling of construction wastes.

The report recommends the adoption of another Danish initiative - a requirement to notify demolition, or applications for development to be accompanied by a suitable plan for managing the projected waste arisings. This, it says, could help to encourage segregation of wastes at source.

Further encouragement for recyclers could come from greater allowance in waste plans for new facilities - some 20 of which would be needed to meet its target. The report urges planning authorities to give a more sympathetic hearing to applications for recycling projects.

Finally, the report says the European standards for aggregates and a general move from "recipe" to "performance" based standards should help recycling. In the meantime, it offers a draft code of practice to the demolition industry.

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