Landfill sites all over the UK are closing due to soaring rates of recycling. Ironically today we got our new smaller bin for non-recoverable waste. This is clearly marked for landfill as I suspect this makes a difference as far as what people put in it. Whilst as this site has blogged on before recycling rates in England have stalled the latest story looks very encouraging with 100m tonnes sent to landfill in 1997 down to 39m tonnes in 2013. By 2020 this will be a mere 10% of its 2009 levels when 90% of all waste went to landfill.
The reasons for this can be put down to one thing. Tax, or more precisely the landfill tax introduced by the labour government (and credit due maintained by all governments since). This paid by all who send stuff to landfill is taxed per tonne and has been progressively raised by successive governments. Currently £80/tonne its set to rise another £2.50 in the next few weeks. This tax does not force local government or waste companies to recycle more, they could pay the tax, but it strongly encourages it. When people say that the taxes do not work the landfill tax is the ultimate counter argument. Since companies and local government know that the tax will continue to rise they can plan accordingly. Far from destroying the waste management companies the landfill tax is enabling them to switch to being a mix of energy production companies (waste methane, energy from waste, solar panels on ex landfill sites) and specialist recycling companies. The landfill sites in any case need decades of cleaning up with careful management.
We should not be complacent, there is still much that we cannot recycle especially in the electronic line (subject of a future post) and we keep going to rural parts of Wales and Scotland and finding very poor recycling facilities. Interestingly I read this week that the French government is forcing anyone who sells stuff in France to say how long it will last and help to combat “planned obsolescence”. Also we should remember that most plastics can only be recycled so many times and that burning waste to make energy is not the best of ideas. So reducing the amount of waste we use is of vital importance.