Letter: The problem of Europe's overflowing dustbin

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Sir: Your leading article (16 July) on packaging waste is right to lament the UK's poor rate of materials recycling (glass 21 per cent, paper 33 per cent) compared with the Netherlands (70 per cent and 55 per cent). But it is wrong to hint that Germany's draconian packaging law - under which industry recycles or faces the statutory threat of all packaging being returnable ('waste mail' as one of our colleagues puts it) - is the route to go.

The German approach has concentrated on increasing the supply of recycled material but has done precious little to foster demand. The result has been the dumping of waste in other countries, including some developing countries, depressing the recycling industry there. Moreover, the German system sets arbitrary targets without any consideration for the costs and benefits of achieving those targets. Our calculations suggest the net cost to Germany could be three billion German marks per annum (around pounds 1bn per annum).

What the EC needs is a packaging tax so the industry receives a clear signal that the polluter must pay. The new EC directive on packaging waste allows governments to devise and implement such a tax. The Government's 1990 White Paper on the Environment entertained the idea of pollution taxes generally. It is time to stop dithering, and get on with it.





Research Fellow

Centre for Social and Economic Research on the Global Environment (CSERGE)

University College London

London, WC1