UK councils have five years to tackle waste or pay

UK councils could face fines totaling millions of pounds unless they deliver planned waste treatment facilities and keep up the pressure to reduce, reuse and recycle, according to an Audit Commission report published on September 25.

It congratulated people and councils for their ongoing efforts to recycle and reduce the amount of waste produced in the first place. Recycling rates have quadrupled since 1999 and have dramatically reduced the amount of waste that ends up in the dump.

But the Commission’s report warns councils that they cannot rely solely on creating less waste and increased recycling if the 2013 target is to be achieved.

The report said investment in waste disposal technologies that convert waste into energy or fuel will have the most significant impact on landfill reduction and that delays to the projects currently underway pose the greatest threat to achieving the target.

These are major, often controversial projects that can take ten years or more to deliver. Together they will create additional capacity for 6.4 million tons of waste. But if schemes already planned were delayed by just two years, England would exceed its landfill allocation by 13 percent and incur penalties which would be picked up by the taxpayer.

Councils that are struggling to find effective ways of reducing their landfill cannot afford to do nothing. Even if England as a whole meets the 2013 target, those authorities that exceed their individual landfill allocations could still be facing fines. This bill could only be paid by increasing the council tax or cutting services.