Monday, May 21, 2007

A cunning plan…

There can be no doubt about it. David Miliband, our esteemed environment secretary, is a secret Eurosceptic, intent on getting us out of the European Union.

His secret weapon is rubbish, and his strategy is to stretch our patience to breaking point with ever-more fatuous recycling schemes, all in the name of the EU, until finally, we all rise up and demand an instant divorce.

In truth, there can be no other explanation for his latest wheeze, flagged up on the front page of The Sunday Times yesterday and in The Daily Mail today.

This is his plan, expected to be announced this week, that will oblige homes to sort rubbish into five containers – or potentially risk fines. Some councils already insist on separating glass, metal, paper and nonrecyclable refuse. But the centrepiece of the new scheme will be a requirement to separate waste food, save it in a special container and hand the rotting deposits over to council binmen.

The idea is, we are told, that the waste can be treated in plant called anaerobic digesters to produce methane. This can then be used to produce electricity, saving on landfill space and reducing the penalty fines imposed by the EU for using this cheap and effective means of disposal.

In keeping with Miliband's plan to get us out of the EU, there are a few problems with this idea. Firstly, the amount of food waste produced is considerably less than the 20 percent claimed by the planners of the scheme – which will drastically increase collection costs.

Then, there is the inconvenient fact that nowhere in the UK (or elsewhere as far as we know) has anyone been able to make large-scale anaerobic digestion work reliably. Thirdly, the costs are so huge (including the massive cost of purchasing and installing the plant) that the revenue from any electricity produced (when the plant is actually working – which is not very often) covers only a fraction of the expenses.

But Tim Worstall makes the obvious point. Modern landfills already collect the methane from rotting food, and the gas recovered already supplies 30 percent of our current renewable energy. There's no need to sort waste food at all, he writes. Simply dump everything into landfill and collect the gas.

That, of course, proves the point. It is all part of a cunning plan…

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