Domestic recycling 'faces cost conflict'

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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT'S target for recycling a quarter of the nation's domestic garbage could cost each household more than pounds 50 a year, according to a report.

If the charge went straight on to the council tax it would more than double the price Britons pay to get rid of the half a tonne or more of rubbish each household produces a year. It might also make recycling hugely unpopular.

The report was commissioned by the Government from Environmental Resources Limited (ERL), a leading consultancy. Its conclusions show that ministers will have to intervene in the waste-disposal and recycled product markets if the target is to have the remotest chance of being met.

When the then Secretary of State for the Environment, Chris Patten, announced this target in 1990, it was greeted as one of the few really challenging commitments in his White Paper.

The consultants were asked to analyse the extra costs involved in collecting this huge amount of recyclable material - chiefly glass, paper, plastics, metals and garden and kitchen wastes which can be turned into compost - and what economic policies could help. They concluded that only kerbside collection schemes could hope to achieve it, rather than the familiar bottle-bank, can-bank and paper- bank schemes in which residents volunteer to take these materials to collection points.

In kerbside schemes all the households in an area are asked to collect their non-wastes in one or more containers separate from the dustbin. A special collection vehicle calls once a week or fortnight to pick them up. Several such schemes have been tried in British towns. They collect far more material than the recycling centres but the costs are substantially higher. The consultants estimate that universal kerbside schemes could collect up to 5.5 million tonnes of recyclable materials a year - almost a third of total household garbage.

This should lead to some savings through not having to dump waste at landfill sites and in selling the material collected to industry. But savings will be vastly outweighed by the extra costs involved in collecting then sorting the re-usable materials. ERL puts the total increase at between pounds 123 and pounds 236 a tonne.

The consultants suggest economic policies for boosting recycling, including government subsidies to councils and increased charges for dumping - as opposed to re-using - wastes.