Greening Britain?

Another fine mess

Ribble ValleyRibble Valley

The EU's 1999 Land Directive is part of the green credentials of the EU. On the positive side the aim is admirable, namely to force governments to recycle waste, save energy, reduce emissions and protect the environment. However, as with many of such edicts there are unintended consequences and things are rarely as simple as green campaigners would have us wish. It is as if anyone who criticises such simple solutions is an 'environmental denier' and wants to ruin the environment. However, there is always another side of the coin and this side may be equally important. There have been protests and pages of newsprint regarding the great bin debate. Should they be collected fortnightly or weekly? Should there be charges? Only now is the mainstream media mentioning that this is a result of the landfill Directive and Britain's belated awareness of this.

Under this directive each country was set targets for reducing landfill and there were fines for failing to meet these. The Eu felt that reduction of waste was best, next came incineration and worst was landfill. Why? Because Denmark and Holland were running out of land and , as usual with the EU, one size fits all. So the law was passed. By 2010 the EU fines will be £150 for every ton of waste by which a council exceeds its target. There is also our own homegrown Landfill Tax which will cost local councils £3 billion over the next four years and we'll still be paying large fines as well because we won't ChinaChinareach the targets. Traditionally Great Britain has used landfill to reclaim large areas of otherwise unproductive land such as abandoned quarries, so we will be hit much harder than other EU countries. Landfill can be controlled and the methane so produced used for energy. Hong Kong has extended into the sea and has engineered landfill with methane recovery. No doubt it also sends much waste now to China , but imagine if it had had to incinerate!

One unintended consequence of all this is a vast increase in fly tipping and we are not alone in this. The Czech Republic is in despair at the vast numbers of German lorries crossing the border to dump waste and, because of the Schengen agreement, they are powerless to patrol the border. In fact 'green Germany' is the largest exporter of waste to other countries. In addition there is the illegal export of waste to countries such as China, where there are few environmental controls and labour is cheap. British companies cannot compete and are closing. You might say, ah, but this will improve when we have yet more laws and waste recycling becomes more efficient, and then there is the toxic waste export directive to prevent export of such waste to the third world. But will it? At the moment as Christopher Booker points out , if the contents of our bins can be labeled as "waste collected for recycling " they officially count as a plus towards meeting EU "recycling" targets, even if much of it is then shipped out to the Far East or discreetly landfilled. There will always be a way of avoiding expensive and unpopular taxes.

LiverpoolLiverpool Car batteries used to be efficiently collected and recycled now they are 'hazardous waste' and sit leaking forlornly on pavements. An inventor put his life savings into developing a heater that burned waste cardboard. It passed all the tests bar one - our officials claimed that it was legal to burn new cardboard but not used cardboard, so he went bankrupt. Garden waste is being ferried round the county in large vehicles because garden waste counts as 100% biodegradable waste and earns all those brownie points. The free distribution of home composters counts as only 68% so there we have it. Yet another fine mess and this time it's not all Gordon's fault, but he is making us pay for it . On the other hand we have a new Quango to help us called WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme), with £73 million in income and £10 million in wage costs, they should be able to sort it all out. And if they don't , well, we can't vote them out so it won't be DEFRA's fault. But at least there will be lots more jobs for British workers .