By Alex Maccioni
Middens, that is to say large heaps of detritus created by humans, have been part of our lives for well over 130,000 years. Massive landfill sites are the modern version of the ancient middens and they can be hundreds of acres in size. Modern landfill sites consist of large pits in the ground where waste is deposited and they are licensed by the government. Once the waste reaches a landfill site it is compacted and then covered by earth.
In the UK, landfill tax is an additional payment to landfill rates and it’s classified as an environmental tax. Landfill tax is paid by landfill owners and charged onto customers as part of their gate fee. This tax applies to any organisation that disposes of waste in landfill. In 2012, the Environment Agency stated: “The Landfill Directive (issued in 1999) has changed the way we manage waste in this country. It has helped us apply consistent high standards of design, construction, operation and aftercare.”
The reason landfill tax came into place in the Finance Act of 1996, was to encourage organisations to dispose of their waste by alternate means such as recycling. The government at that time, which was Conservative, wanted to achieve 25 percent recycling rates per household.
Landfill tax has two going rates; a standard rate (active waste) and a lower rate (inactive waste). Active waste is biodegradable such as wood, plastic, food and top soil. Inactive waste is non-biodegradable material which means it won’t decompose. Currently, the active waste rate is £72 per tonne and the inactive waste rate is £2.50. The prices have risen somewhat dramatically over the years:
Standard rate (£ per tonne)
(£ per tonne)
*This is the set rate for 2014, but new suggestions may see this rate increase by 150 percent.
The Seven Association Alliance (SAA) is now suggesting that the chancellor should raise landfill tax to £200 per tonne in 2014 rather than the expected £80 in a letter sent before the Autumn Statement (due on the 4th December). That’s a whopping 150 percent increase and quite the opposite direction of the rest of Europe as they set to decrease landfill rates as they aim to phase landfills out altogether.
The British Plastic Federation (BPF), coordinators of the SAA, said that: “The UK was among the worst performers in the European Union for its dependence on sending waste to landfill.” In their letter to the chancellor, the SAA say that “To drive recyclable waste from landfill we do urge you to greatly increase landfill tax to £200 per tonne. This would drive recyclable waste from landfill bringing back into use valuable resources after recycling.” They do not make any reference to the lower rate which is set to remain at £2.50.
Even though landfill is a relatively cheap method of disposing of waste, it has been known to contaminate water supplies. However, landfill is far more accepted than other options, including the incineration of waste.
Unsurprisingly, there is backlash to this news that the SAA wishes to raise landfill tax. Those that are opposed to this suggestion argue that this will not help increase recycling within the UK. Members of the Recycling Group say that a rise in landfill tax rates would be counter-productive.
There is a floor under the standard rate put in place in the 2010 budget, backed by the Coalition Government that declares that the standard rate would not fall below £80 per tonne from 2014-2015 to 2019-2020.
The SAA argues that the raise will ensure recyclable waste will be “transformed into valuable resources after recycling” and won’t end up in a landfill. Perhaps ironically, the SAA is currently fighting against charging customers 5p for plastic shopping bags. In an open letter compiled by the SSA, they explain their reasons.
The letter states that:
Whilst the preservation of the environment is of great importance to the Alliance, it does not feel that ‘pointless green taxes’ are of benefit to hard-pressed households who are already struggling for money. With the proposed 5p charge for plastic bags, the co-ordinated group of seven organisations hope the Government will reconsider this ‘unnecessary charge.’”
Make of that what you will. What is certain is that the landfill tax will continue to rise, although the £200 being pushed around by some is probably not going to be a reality for some time.
Article written by Alex Maccioni; a founding member of JunkWize. JunkWize removes rubbish in London and they pride themselves on recycling as much of this as possible.
Image credit: Jim Linwood, Flickr.