Recycling is best way to deal with rubbish, says EU By Tim King

Electronic Telegraph Saturday 29 March 1997 Issue 673


RECYCLING rubbish is far cheaper than burning or burying it, according to a study prepared for the European Commission which could shape the way we dispose of waste in the next century.

The report is being seized upon by environmentalists as evidence that the Government and local councils should do more to encourage people to recycle rubbish.

At present the amount of encouragement householders are given to recycle rather than dump depends on local council policy. Some London councils such as Wandsworth and Richmond upon Thames have very active recycling programmes encouraging people to recycle paper, glass and cans and providing different coloured bags for varied items. Top of the recycling league is Weymouth and Portland in Dorset where 21.9 per cent of rubbish is recycled.

The report being used by EC officials to draft a new landfill directive shows that the economic and environmental costs of incinerating waste by 2001 are expected to be 104 to 120 per ton of household waste, compared with the cost of landfill at 65 to 75 per ton.

The figures were prepared for the European Commission by the economist David Pierce and Coopers & Lybrand, who analysed both the economic and environmental costs of each method of waste treatment.

According to Friends of the Earth, who are fighting proposals for new incinerators in towns across the country, the report should be used to encourage more recycling.

The London borough of Sutton has set a target of recycling 50 per cent of household waste by 2001 and 80 per cent by 2006. Friends of the Earth wants all authorities to set a target of 80 per cent by 2010. Friends of the Earth supports these initiatives but is concerned that political parties are not paying enough attention to the issue. The Conservative manifesto, for example, sets a desired target of only 25 per cent.

Mike Childs, a Friends of the Earth spokesman, said councils should not be allowed to continue with "pathetically low rates of waste being recycled. There seems to be a number of local authorities that have shut themselves away for the last 10 years," he added. "They think they can carry on with the bad old ways of collecting rubbish and either burying it in a hole or burning it."

The study concludes that recycling is the best option for metals and glass. There are fewer benefits from paper and textiles and the smallest environmental benefits from recycling rigid plastic.

The benefits from recycling vary across the European Community because of variations in transport costs, energy savings and the mix of recycled products, but in all countries, recycling offers "significant environmental benefits", the study says.

Next week London receives its first allocation of 12 million from the Environment Department to develop kerbside recycling. It will pay for collection boxes, for specialist trucks to take the separate items of waste, and for some recycling treatment sites.

The project to develop recycling in 30 London boroughs is being run by London Pride, a consortium of local and central government, business and community groups.

Keith Collins, of the London Pride Waste Recycling Programme, said that in two to three years the proportion of domestic waste which was recycled would be lifted from the current average of five per cent to more than 25 per cent. He predicted that by the autumn there would be 12 London boroughs with kerbside collections.

The wheely-bins which have displaced the traditional dustbin or rubbish sack actually encourage people to throw more away. A survey commissioned by the Environment Agency showed that homes whose rubbish was collected in plastic sacks produced only two thirds as much rubbish as homes with wheely-bins.