WHAT'S THE PROBLEM?
16. The simple statistics of waste make depressing
reading. In total, we in England and Wales produce some 106 million
tonnes of industrial, commercial and household waste each year.
Such a statistic means little without context: this is equivalent
to each of us producing more than 20 times our own body weight
in waste every year. Further, we produce around 300 million tonnes
annually of construction and demolition wastes, agricultural wastes,
mining wastes, sewage sludge and dredged spoils. These wastes
are not considered further in this Report. Here, we focus on the
106 million tonnes figure, and particularly on the 28 million
tonnes of municipal waste which is produced.
17. The majority of waste is currently dumped in
landfill sites: of the 106 million tonnes, 66 million tonnes find
their way into landfill.
The municipal waste stream is the most likely to end up there,
with 23 of the 28 million tonnes produced being disposed of in
this way. From both an environmental and an economic perspective,
landfill is probably the least attractive option for handling
waste: in most cases, it is possible to recover some value from
materials which are being landfilled. Also, the availability of
capacity for landfill is dwindling in some regions: many sites
are now full and it is proving difficult to identify new sites.
The need to reduce landfill has now been formalised in the EU
Landfill Directive which requires the amount of biodegradable
municipal waste which is landfilled to be reduced in stages, ultimately
to 35% of that landfilled in 1995 by 2020.
18. One of the other major pressures is that some
parts of the waste stream may be growing rapidly. For municipal
waste, the whole waste industry appears to be using a working
assumption that this stream will grow by up to 3% year on year
into the future. This would imply a doubling of municipal waste
in less than 25 years and places an acute pressure on the need
to change waste practices if we are to reduce the amount landfilled
during this time. Strangely, the 3% figure is rarely challenged,
still less confronted, despite the fact that the consequences
are so unpalatable.
19. 'The problem', defined simply, is what do we
do to reduce the amount of waste being produced and divert much
of what we do produce away from landfill? Do we do the bare minimum
or do we use this time as an opportunity to bring about a real
step change in how we view and deal with waste? Do we aim to nudge
waste gradually up the waste hierarchy or do we take this opportunity
to overhaul the whole system and aim to cultivate an approach
which is fitting for a developed and civilised country entering
the 21st century? Perhaps the real problem is one we
have already defined: that those involved with waste continue
to prefer inaction, or at best 'nudging', rather than 'overhauling'.
Of this 106 million tonnes,
around 30 million tonnes are currently recycled or composted Back