Scotland’s failure to ban waste dumping could give England a “£100 million landfill tax gift”, an industry body is warning.
The Scottish Environmental Services Association (Sesa), which represents waste companies, predicts that local authorities will not be able to meet the 2021 deadline set by the Scottish Government for ending the disposal of biodegradable waste in landfill sites.
As a result an estimated one million tonnes of “homeless” Scottish waste a year will “follow the line of least resistance” and be transported south to England where companies will have to pay landfill tax approaching £100 a tonne, Sesa says.
The purpose of the landfill ban is to help move Scotland towards a “circular economy” which minimises wastage and maximises resource use. It could also help cut climate pollution from rubbish rotting in landfill sites.
Sesa suggests that councils need to build more incinerators to burn waste and generate energy. But environmentalists and community groups oppose such plants as wasteful and polluting, arguing that the priority should be to boost recycling instead.
As part of its “zero waste” strategy, the Scottish Government wants a ban on landfill dumping of food, paper, garden and any other household waste that decomposes before 1 January 2021. The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities has already warned that “it seems unlikely that the 2021 ban will be fully achievable.”
According to the latest official figures, 45 per cent of Scotland’s 2.5 million tonnes of council-collected waste was dumped as landfill in 2017. Slightly more – 46 per cent – was recycled, with nine per cent being incinerated or disposed of in other ways.
There were eight local authorities who dumped more than half of their waste as landfill. Two councils – Glasgow and Na h-Eileanan Siar – disposed of 65 per cent or more of their waste in landfill sites, and had amongst the lowest recycling rates.
The two councils that have long used waste incinerators – Dundee and Shetland – had the lowest landfill dumping rates in 2017. But their recycling rates were also comparatively poor.
Sesa has expressed “deep concern” about Scotland’s “lack of preparedness” for the 2021 landfill ban. “Our research shows that Scotland lacks sufficient non-landfill treatment capacity to meet the ban’s current 2021 deadline,” the association said.
“Approximately one million tonnes of residual waste will have to find disposal outlets outside Scotland.”
Sesa pointed out that there was no landfill ban planned in England, but there was a landfill tax of £88.95 a tonne, due to rise to over £94 a tonne by April 2020.
“Restricting or banning certain materials can act as a great incentive to recover value from the waste we all produce – but it needs to be properly planned for,” said Sesa policy advisor, Stephen Freeland.
“Bringing this ban in too early before the infrastructure is built in Scotland to deal properly with the waste will simply mean the waste will follow the line of least resistance.”
This would mean higher haulage costs for councils and businesses, as well as a “hefty landfill tax bill”, Freeland told The Ferret.
“Or worse it will end up in the hands of waste criminals who cause misery for people, damage to the environment, and have a significant impact on UK finances.”
Sesa chairman, Michael Tracey, called for an “urgent review” of Scotland’s waste policy to accelerate investment in “non-landfill” capacity. “Bringing this ban in without giving enough time to build the right infrastructure to deal with the waste that will be banned from landfill and effectively “homeless” will be a costly mistake for Scotland,” he said.
Instead of wasting valuable materials in incinerators, Scotland needs to redouble its efforts on recycling and reducing waste. Dr Richard Dixon, Friends of the Earth Scotland
Friends of the Earth Scotland pointed out that the landfill ban was put into law nearly seven years ago. “The Scottish Government, councils and the waste industry have squandered that time,” said the environmental group’s director, Dr Richard Dixon.
“No one should pay any heed to the industry’s special pleading. Instead of a rapid boost to recycling and food waste collections we have seen only modest progress, with many councils thinking that signing up to a deal with a new incinerator will save them.”
Dixon cited Wales as an example of what could be done. “We need to implement the kind of policies that have propelled Wales from being a recycling laggard 15 years ago to the third best household waste recycler in the world,” he added.
“Instead of wasting valuable materials in incinerators, Scotland needs to redouble its efforts on recycling and reducing waste.”
The Scottish Government is expected to publish a report soon saying what needs to be done. “The forthcoming ban on biodegradable municipal waste from landfill in Scotland remains an important part of our commitment to achieving a more circular economy and to achieving our ambitious landfill, recycling and waste targets,” said a government spokesperson.
“We are aware of the challenges associated with the introduction of the ban and are working with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa), Zero Waste Scotland, councils and the private sector to prepare for it.”
The spokesperson added: “We will publish a waste markets study shortly which, along with the close co-operation of stakeholders, will help us identify any further actions we may need to take to ensure that Scotland is ready to deliver the ban.”
Sepa and Zero Waste Scotland – both government agencies – stressed that they would continue to support the landfill ban. The Conventional of Scottish Local Authorities declined to comment.
Which councils dumped most waste as landfill in 2017?
|Local authority||Total waste (tonnes)||Landfilled||Recycled||Incinerated and other|
|Na h-Eileanan Siar||14,453||65%||24%||11%|
|City of Edinburgh||200,720||56%||41%||3%|
|Argyll and Bute||50,437||47%||39%||14%|
|Dumfries and Galloway||76,289||42%||28%||31%|
|Perth and Kinross||74,789||38%||56%||6%|