At the current rate of disposal, England will run out of landfill space by the year 2010. In response, its government is creating incentive programs for recycling and waste-to-energy (WTE), combined with a landfill tax.
In 1990, the Environmental Protection Act created a credit system designed to reward local authorities, contractors and other industry members for each ton of material recycled.
That same year, the government also provided funding for local authorities to construct new recycling facilities convenient to populated areas. And, by 1995, they established a set of objectives encouraging further minimization (see chart).
However, the most recent - and likely most effective - legislation has been the introduction of a landfill tax. Currently, the tax is set at 7 per ton of household waste landfilled, which will raise tipping fees considerably. "The landfill tax is likely to have a positive impact on both recycling and incineration, and as part of an overall strategy, it will push things in the right direction," said a London Waste Regulation Authority spokesperson.
The British government even has considered increasing the landfill tax further. They project that a 10 levy per ton would increase recycling rates from 2 percent to 4 percent and incineration rates from 7 percent to 12 percent. Even more significantly, they project that a 20 levy would raise both recycling and incineration rates an additional 8 percent, bringing totals to 12 percent and 20 percent of the municipal waste stream, respectively.
"The new tax demonstrates the government's commitment to extending the use of economic instruments to achieve environmental objectives," said J. Gummer, Secretary of State for the Environment. "This is an important development for the proposed National Waste Strategy ... and will help to achieve the most cost effective and least regulatory [way to minimize waste and] boost recovery rates."
As a final measure, Britain has adopted the European Union's waste hierarchy:
*Reduction. Use less material in products, produce less waste in manufacturing and produce longer-lasting products.
*Reuse. Use returnable bottles, reusable packaging and Oxfam-style charities.
*Recovery. Find beneficial uses for wastes including recycling, composting and energy recovery from incineration and landfill gas.
*Disposal. Use, only as a last resort, incineration and landfilling without energy recovery.
Hopes are high that as these tough standards filter down through the waste sector to producers and handlers, landfilling will be dramatically reduced.
To gauge the public and private sectors' reactions to these activities, a survey was conducted by Adam Reid, a postgraduate waste researcher for Nene College, North-hampton, and Kingston University, Surrey.
Survey results show that county councils, metropolitan authorities and contractors currently landfill approximately 90 percent of the country's household wastes. However, the general consensus between both authorities and contractors is that alternatives to landfilling should be adopted. In fact, at least 69 percent of the authorities and 37 percent of the companies responding (55 percent of the total sample) plan to implement new strategies and methods within the next five years.
Of those who intend to decrease landfilling, 92 percent cite new government regulations as the motivating factor, though 59 percent of those who will continue to landfill claim the standards are insignificant. Notably, results show that local authorities are more likely to actively seek alternative management options than are contractors, whose sole business is to dispose of wastes usually in landfills.
Although landfilling currently dominates the British waste industry, this dependence is expected to decline over the next 15 years. Strong legislation will continue to increase awareness of the currently distorted waste disposal market and will lead the way to a more balanced and sustainable structure.