Climbing up the recycling heap

Major rises in recycling targets and new powers for local councils to decide whether to “reward” residents for their efforts were unveiled by the government yesterday.

Major rises in recycling targets and new powers for local councils to decide whether to 'reward' residents for their efforts were yesterday unveiled by the government. Environment correspondent TARA GREAVES asks whether this will be enough to win the war on waste.


As a country, when it comes to rubbish we are at the bottom of the heap. In a bid to tackle our growing waste mountain, environment secretary David Miliband yesterday announced a wide-ranging package of measures to cut rubbish and boost recycling - including the potential to penalise those who fail to recycle.

“Our key objectives are less waste, more re-use and recycling, more energy from waste and less landfill,” he said.

But is it a case of easier said than done?

Outlining the government's waste strategy, he said there would be voluntary agreements with industry to reduce and recycle waste.

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People would be able to opt out of junk mail and the use of free single-use plastic carrier bags would be cut back, with the aim of eventually ending it.

Local authorities will be allowed to decide whether to reward residents' recycling, providing their proposals for incentives were overall “revenue neutral”, said Mr Miliband.

But a senior town hall leader warned that Mr Miliband's statement still left questions about how local councils were supposed to deal with the growing rubbish mountain.

And locally, Conservatives dubbed the plans as “Labour's poll tax on wheelies”.

Mr Miliband said England generated about 100 million tonnes of waste a year, most of which ended up in landfill dumps, adding to greenhouse gas emissions.

In 2005-06, 27pc of household waste was recycled compared with just 7.5pc in 1996-97 and there had been a 9pc fall in waste being landfilled between 2001 and 2005.

“Despite this progress, England's waste performance still lags well behind much of the rest of Europe,” he said.

He wants local authorities to be allowed to decide whether to reward residents' recycling, provided their plans met cost considerations

The waste strategy gives examples which suggest “green” homes could get £30 a year back from their council, while non-recyclers pay an extra £30.

Councils would also not be able to use the charges to raise extra funds, and would have to take into account size of households, whether people had young children or whether they were on council tax benefit.

It would be up to councils to decide if they want to operate such a system and what system they want to use.

Lord Bruce-Lockhart, chairman of the Local Government Association, said: “Councils have argued for an urgent and radical overhaul of the amount of rubbish produced and the way in which it is thrown away.

“The waste strategy confirms that as a nation we need to radically cut waste but it leaves unanswered vital questions on how to actually do this.

“The LGA has argued for more money to pay for dealing with waste. The strategy sets out plans to almost double recycling targets which will be impossible to achieve without proper government investment.”

South Norfolk Council was one of the first to trial a pay as you throw system using microchips in bins but the new Conservative administration yesterday vowed not to adopt the scheme again.

David Bills, environmental health and recycling portfolio holder, said: “We were one of the first to put them in as part of a test with Defra. However, the software and technology was not up to scratch. For example, if the chip couldn't be read the bin would not be emptied and so in wet and windy February the poor bin men were loading them manually.

“We think this is a stealth tax and I know from recently knocking on doors when we were campaigning that it is one of the top three issues people are concerned about.

“I think it needs to be much easier for people to recycle, we need to lift restrictions and be less draconian about it.”

John Fuller, leader of the council, added: “Many people in South Norfolk pay at least a £1,000 in council tax and many think that just pays for refuse collection. While that is not the case, I don't think they should be asked to pay more. It is Labour's poll tax on wheelies.”

Norfolk is doing better than most, with an overall recycling rate of about 36pc but officials and residents agree there is still more to be done.

Sue Allport, who has set up the Postwick Green Group (PGG) with Helen Rinaldo, said: “I am still confused about which plastic I can and can't put in my recycling bin which is one of the reasons we have invited Broadland District Council to an awareness day we are having on June 9.”

The duo is also planning a bulk buying scheme for more environmentally friendly products and planning to encourage people to shop locally.

All seven district councils and the county council are signed up to a waste management strategy but have been criticised in the past for the range in ways recycling is delivered - from the various colours of bins to what can and cannot be collected.

Kate Fairfoull, Norfolk County Council's waste reduction manager, said: “Over the past year we have been working together to promote common messages under the banner Recycle for Norfolk.

“We all attended events and spoke to residents and recognised that the difference between our schemes was causing some confusion and we want to make recycling as easy and simple as possible.

“As a result of this we are working together, meeting each month to work a closely as we can and build on joint messages and communication to Norfolk residents.

“June 4 marks the beginning of Recycle Now Week and all Norfolk councils with be running a joint communications campaign throughout the week and we will be in the Forum in Norwich on June 5 with information and giveaways to help residents reduce their waste.”

With Britain at the bottom of the heap, the only way is up but just how far will the new waste strategy take us?

The Postwick Green Group green day will be held in the village hall from 10am -4pm on June 9. For more information email

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