Take it back, junk mailers to be told

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Firms that send junk mail may have to take it back, by government order, under plans to be announced by ministers this week to try to reduce the nationwide mountain ranges of unsolicited mail.

Firms that send junk mail may have to take it back, by government order, under plans to be announced by ministers this week to try to reduce the nationwide mountain ranges of unsolicited mail.

They regard the billions of unsolicited promotions that avalanche through letter boxes each year as a massive waste of paper. They want as much as possible recycled.

And they are also planning a bottle lottery. Householders will put their names and addresses on plastic bottles they put out for recycling, and one will be picked at random to win a prize - as yet unspecified.

The plans are part of a 20-year strategy for coping with the country's rubbish. The Waste Strategy for England and Wales wants 30 per cent of household waste recycled or in compost by 2010, and drastic cuts in the amount of waste being dumped in holes.

Junk mail has more than doubled over the Nineties, from 1.5 billion items a year at the opening of the decade to 3.1 billion in 1998. Environment ministers will develop an "initiative" to make those who send junk mail responsible for its fate, and to ensure much of it is recycled. The initiative - to be discussed with the Direct Mail Association - will be voluntary, but could be compulsory if it fails to achieve results.

Ministers are not yet sure how the scheme will operate. Junk mail firms may have to take their send-outs back directly, but the scheme is more likely to operate through a system of intermediaries.

The strategy will also launch pilot schemes to encourage householders. Besides the bottle lottery, local authorities and supermarkets will give vouchers or loyalty points to householders and customers depending on how much waste they put out or bring for recycling.

At present, four-fifths of all household rubbish is dumped in tips. The strategy aims to reduce this by 15 per cent within five years. The new arrangements will cost local councils up to £140m a year. Ministers will not announce any new government money when they launch it, but hope to get some under the Government's comprehensive spending review.

But Friends of the Earth doubts the strategy will succeed. Britain recycles only 7 per cent of its household waste, a quarter of the target for 2000 adopted by the last government. Only France among other EU countries has a worse record: Belgium recycles 39 per cent.

The group says EU rules mean two-thirds of all waste must be diverted from holes in the ground by 2020. Even if new recycling targets are met, 130 incinerators will have to be built, arousing intense opposition from residents who fear pollution from them.

Mike Childs, the group's industry and pollution campaigner, says: "Junk mail is just the tip of the waste iceberg. The Government needs to provide the money for good recycling schemes people would use."

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