First steps to make Britain a greener land

The UK's record on recycling is 'pathetic' compared to other major countries. By joining our campaign you can help redress the balance
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The Independent on Sunday's decision to plant a forest to compensate for the carbon dioxide we produce has struck a deep chord with our readers. The many letters we have received demonstrate a wider concern about the environment, global warming and the way we should manage the planet on which we live.

The Independent on Sunday's decision to plant a forest to compensate for the carbon dioxide we produce has struck a deep chord with our readers. The many letters we have received demonstrate a wider concern about the environment, global warming and the way we should manage the planet on which we live.

Last week we gave details of five possible sites for the Independent on Sunday forest: near the cities of Manchester, Cardiff, Bristol and Belfast or in the Scottish Borders. Readers can still vote for which site they would prefer by writing to the address at the end of this article. Anyone who would like to contribute trees can do so by using the form on the right.

One of the key issues that has emerged from the readers' postbag is a concern about the vast quantities of greenhouse gases and general household waste we all produce.

There is good news: the Government last week announced that, thanks to energy saving measures, it expected to easily meet a target laid down by the Kyoto treaty to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases to 12.5 per cent below 1990 levels by 2010. It added that it now aimed to meet a tougher, voluntary figure of 20 per cent below 1990 levels by the same date.

In addition, all the UK's publicly managed forests have been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, the international, independent body set up to certify environmentally and socially beneficial forestry.

The bad news: in 1996 the UK recycled just eight per cent of household waste, compared to Switzerland (52 per cent), Austria (45 per cent) and the US (30 per cent). New Zealand and Australia have set out "zero waste strategies", which mean that the only waste they intend to discard is material that has been recycled so frequently it has no further use.

Most waste collection is done by cash-strapped local authorities who maintain that recycling must compete alongside higher priorities such as education and social services. The landfill tax, set at £10 per tonne of waste, has failed to encourage local councils to recycle more materials.

But in the long run, it can be cheaper to be environmentally friendly, as can be illustrated by the calculation used to make each individual reader of the Independent on Sunday "carbon neutral". It requires, on average, 15 trees for a person to offset the amount of carbon dioxide we produce each year. Buying through Future Forests the cost is £60. Yet, by taking a few simple energy saving measures - such as insulating lofts or defrosting the freezer - we could all reduce our carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, need to plant fewer trees and pay less money to offset the amount of greenhouse gas we produce.

Dan Morrell, founder of Future Forests, the environmental taskforce which will oversee the planting of the Independent on Sunday's wood, said: "Planting a tree is a drop in the ocean, and so is turning off light switches, but collectively it all adds up. It shows we care about the environment and in a small way makes a comment about the big global issues."

Friends of the Earth believe current Government thinking is short-term. "We need a long-term vision," said Sarah Oppenheimer, the FoE's waste campaigner. "Although recycling systems are expensive to set up you soon start to save money. All that's needed is money from central government to get things going."

FoE now believes that mandatory targets, combined with the threat of huge fines for industry and a moratorium on new landfill sites is the only way forward. The Government's forthcoming waste strategy, driven by the European Union's Landfill Directive which must be in place by the end of next year, will set out a target that we should be recycling 30 per cent of household waste by 2010.

"Our figure at the moment is pathetic," said Ms Oppenheimer. "The previous government set a target of 25 per cent of waste being recycled by 2000 and here we are with just eight per cent. Without enforceable laws we are sceptical that the targets will be achieved. The targets are not statutory so no penalties will be imposed if they're not met.

"No one is prepared to jump until government action is taken. The US went from recycling eight per cent of household waste to 30 per cent in 10 years. It's achievable. It's just a question of political will."

To vote for your preferred site, or to comment on the issues raised by our campaign, write to: Forest, Independent on Sunday, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL. Email:

m.rowe@independent.co.uk

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