Thursday, January 05, 2006

The cost of an obsession

We reported recently on the EU’s obsession with increasing the recycling of waste, but it takes today's Guardian to tell us how much it will cost.

The information comes from Peter Jones, a director of Biffa – a company which collects the waste of more than 50 local authorities. He has warned that the tighter EU recycling laws and higher landfill taxes will cost up to £8bn - about 10 percent of the cost of the National Health Service - within years.

By 2009, Jones expects most counties to have only one landfill site, and a new generation of large industrial composting and waste recovery plants costing several billion pounds. "The days of chucking waste into holes in the ground are over and the future is hi-tech, efficient, but fiendishly expensive."

"Instead of chucking 75 percent of everything we have finished with down a hole for about £12 a ton, within a few years very little will be landfilled and that will cost two or three times what it costs now," he says. "We expect it to cost Britain £5-8bn to deliver an 80% diversion from landfill. Everyone is in for a rude shock."

His warning comes as the Institution of Civil Engineers publishes a stark report saying the UK needs a level of investment similar to that required to set up the motorway network and the electricity grid, to provide new facilities to handle and process waste. It puts the price at £10bn.

And if that is the price, we really do have to ask ourselves whether it is worth it, especially as there is no market for much of the recycled material, some of which is exported to third-world countries where it is burn or buried. Frankly, while the EU is totally obsessive in its aversion to landfill, this is a cheap and sanitary system that has served this country well, and has been used widely for reclaiming otherwise unusable land.

However, while we can always ask whether the recycling route is one we want to take, we do not have an option. As we pointed out in our earlier post, this is a matter of EU law and our government's duty is but to obey – like it or not.


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