Sunday, 30 November 2014

Reducing landfill is a good thing to do - not some sort of EU green conspiracy


There's a common line from those who dislike either or both of climate change policies and the EU that the encouragement of recycling and strategies to reduce the use of landfill are just another of those idiotic greeny-greeny nonsenses. We've read this from Christopher Booker, on the EU Referendum blog and now from James Delingpole in the Daily Mail:

Every year Britain produces about 70 million cubic metres of municipal waste, while it has more than 819 million cubic metres available for landfill — a figure that increases by 114 million cubic metres a year as more quarries and gravel pits are dug.

By far the most attractive and safe option would be to have these gaping holes filled with rubbish and covered over or reclaimed, so the landscape looks almost as it did before.

This would have knock-on benefits for the aggregates industry, which could offset its costs — as it did in the old days — with waste disposal.

It would release local councils from layer upon layer of regulatory bureaucracy. No longer would we have to waste time pointlessly sifting our rubbish. And it would, of course, bring an almost immediate end to fly-tipping.

This, after all, was the system that worked perfectly well for us before our politicians and the EU stuck their oars in. If only we had the will and the courage of our convictions, it could work just as well for us now.

My instant reaction (one that most Cullingworth residents would share) is 'there speaks a man who doesn't have two landfill sites in his village' but to explain the problem let's describe landfill and consider what we mean by 'municipal waste'.

Modern landfill can be described as finding a big enough hole in the ground, putting a very big plastic bag (a sophisticated, highly-engineered plastic bag to be sure but still a plastic bag) into the hole rather like you do with the bin in your kitchen, filling it up with rubbish until you can't get any more in and then covering it over. And then we wait thirty to fifty years with out fingers crossed hoping that big plastic bag doesn't split.

Then there's the stuff we put in the landfill. 'Domestic' waste they call it and it's all that stuff you put in your general waste bin. So there's fairly benign stuff like food scraps, paper and plastic. And a cocktail of nasty unpleasant chemicals - the bits of bleach you don't rinse out from the bottle, the heavy metals in the spent AA batteries, the residual contents of aerosols, shampoos and a bewildering variety of pharmaceuticals. Domestic waste is truly filthy stuff - poisonous, corrosive and polluting. As it rots is produces a very dangerous leachate - the big plastic bag is all that stops this leachate from polluting water supplies and contaminating land. Do you really think the best way to deal with this waste is to but it in a big plastic bag on the hill above Cullingworth?

Now Delingpole is right to criticise the EU's waste licensing regimes, to question how the ramping up of landfill charges contributes to illegal dumping and to condemn the nonsensical manner in which recyclers are prevented from exporting recovered goods or materials. But this doesn't change the fact that landfill isn't the best way to deal with hazardous waste. Nearly all of that 70 million cubic metres of trash local councils collect is pretty dangerous stuff. Simply dumping it into holes in the ground without pre-treatment or the reduction of pollution risk is a recipe for blighting communities. And the best way to reduce those risks is to promote recycling.



asquith said...

Apart from a natural tendency to use less and avoid unnecessary purchases, and use what I have to the max rather than throw things away and needlessly replace them, I don't have that much to say because I rather think it calls for more specialist knowledge than I have, and unlike Delingpole, Brooker and other scourges of anything green, I don't go round mouthing off... apart from to quote a previous comment I left here:

"[someone I met] said surely it was pointless to have environmental regulations when China and India would pollute for us all.

And I simply said to him that he wouldn't want to endure the air and water pollution that are considered normal in these countries, nor would he want the state or corporations to ride roughshod over the common man as they routinely do in large parts of the world. You may not like a particular regulation, and maybe I wouldn't either, but disagreeing with the concept of regulation is wrong on this grounds.

And we haven't even got the levels of primary poverty that MIGHT be viewed as an excuse in those countries. (The few people who are destitute, we can argue over how they came to be in their state, but no one can say it's due to a lack of resources in the country as a whole).

I will keep my back yard clean even if my neighbours all live in filth and make money selling to fly tippers, and so would any resident of the estate if they wanted to live decently and said money wasn't the only think keeping them from dying of hunger".

Furthermore, one does not simply act as though waste isn't a problem. And it's often offshored. It doesn't somehow stop mattering to the world when it's Over There.

tedioustantrums said...

The disposal of waste has become ridiculous. We all have a number of bins into which we separate the waste. There isn't much evidence in my bins of anything nasty. In fact we stopped segregating food waste since it was smelly and attracted insects etc.

Going back along the trial of waste generation there is a single point which the government would do well to consider. Reduce packaging at source. Simples. Less recycling. So manufacturers of goods would have to reduce their packaging. Next step remove all packing which is reasonable at the store you shop in. Give them your recycling in effect. I feel sure that they would squeeze their suppliers to reduce packaging and they would find a way of selling the stuff that was left by customers.

Going back along the chain currently means we have to separate etc. The council collects and sells what they can. Wait a minute that doesn't belong to them. Each household should be paid for their rubbish, the councils include waste removal in the rates.

For the most part filling in big holes with rubbish isn't a bad idea as long as the rubbish isn't toxic etc. Most disused quarries and such like holes in the ground have solid rock etc on all sides. If it doesn't dont tip there.

asquith said...

What about charging for plastic bags, as well? I know the libertarian tendency are generally against it. But consider the fact that producing bags and disposing of old bags has direct and indisrect financial costs, and environmental costs that can't be quantified but are every bit as real. Therefore users of them should pay.

You've got these bags for life. They are an environmental boon. And if people can turn a pound making branded ones, why not if they sense a business opportunity? I have one (it was made in aid of footpaths at The Roaches, which I thought was only fair since I benefit from footpaths that workers and volunteers laid down without my help) and it must have saved me dozens of carrier bags over the years.

Undoubtedly, people have done this kind of thing wrong down the years and government involvement tends to worsen matters. That's an argument for putting it right, not for not bothering.

I am quite keen on environmental matters. But I am estranged from "greens" most of the time. Therefore I want to see thinking come from people who are not of the Caroline Lucas tendency.