UK proposes tradable permits for waste

Government sets out options for reducing biodegradable waste dumping in line with EU landfill directive

In what appears to be the first such proposal in Europe, the UK environment ministry hinted yesterday that it might introduce tradable permits for municipal waste landfilling. The country already has a trading system for packaging waste, but extending the idea to all municipal waste - the UK generated 29m tonnes in 1995 - would mark a significant development in the use of market trading as an environmental policy tool.

The idea appears in a consultation document on how England and Wales should comply with the new EU landfill directive's requirement that countries must achieve large absolute reductions in the landfilling of biodegradable wastes, culminating in a 65% cut on the 1995 level by 2016. Further consultation on other aspects of the directive is promised for next year.

The UK has an option of a four-year delay in achieving the biodegradable waste targets because it currently landfills such a high proportion of solid waste (over 80%). The consultation paper makes clear that the government wants to use this delay, stressing that hasty action would risk a "dash to energy from waste" rather than other ways of diverting waste from landfill such as composting and recycling.

Ministers accept that the EU biodegradable waste landfilling reduction targets pose a huge challenge to the UK that will drive not only changes to the way that biodegradable wastes are handled but also overall reductions in municipal waste generation. The consultation paper shows that the UK will have to divert from landfill or prevent generation of over 11m tonnes of biodegradable municipal waste by 2020 at the latest.

The paper canvasses the idea of simply banning the landfilling of biodegradable waste, but warns that it would be difficult to make work in practice. More promising, it says, would be to issue permits restricting the amount of biodegradable waste either that is sent to or that is accepted by landfill sites. In either of these cases, the paper says, "there would be significant advantages in making permits tradable between participants".

A critical uncertainty, it goes on, is whether limits on landfilling should be placed on local authorities, as municipal waste producers, or on landfill operators.

Following a period of consultation, the government plans to issue a final waste strategy next year setting out how all the landfill directive's obligations will be complied with, including standards for the design, operation and after-care of landfill sites. The legal deadline for legislative transposition in all EU countries is July 2001.

Follow Up:
UK environment ministry, tel: +49 171 890 3000. References: "Limiting Waste" is available by calling +44 870 1226 236.

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