Recycling Targets ... the power to enforce them

In the news today is the very welcome announcement of higher recycling targets for Wales.

     Wales Online, The green land of no waste by 2050
     BBC, Recycling target of 70% by 2025

Of course this is a complete no-brainer. I doubt if there's anybody who thinks we can continue to dump so much waste on landfill sites. The only issue is what to do instead.

Then I read my regular email update on the progress of LCOs from the Assembly. (There's a page on the Assembly website that shows the current state of all LCOs, and there's a link at the bottom to register.)

Right at the top is the LCO on Environmental Protection and Waste Management, which is described thus:

The proposed LCO would confer further legislative competence on the Assembly in the field of Environmental Protection (Field 6 within Schedule 5 to the 2006 Act). New powers in this Field will enable the Welsh Assembly Government to bring forward proposals for Measures with the aim of creating sustainable communities. Three specific areas in which these powers will be used are: improving local environmental quality, increasing recycling and improving waste management; and strengthening pollution controls.

Just to the right is a timetable of progress. This LCO was part of the very first batch of LCOs announced in June 2007. It chugged slowly through the system until November 2007, and then just got lost in the long grass. Only now has Paul Murphy finally agreed to refer it to Westminster ... and it's anyone's guess how long it will take to get through the various committees there.

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It's a simple fact of life that most people do things either because they're easy or because they're cheap. It is easier to simply dump waste than recycle it. Any government needs "teeth" in order to get local authorities and commercial operators to change their behaviour. The reason we are seeing a number of proposed waste incineration schemes is simply down to one factor: Westminster decided to raise landfill tax by a huge £8/tonne to £32/tonne. But incineration is simply the next easiest/cheapest solution. It isn't good, it's just slightly better.

And sadly, by concentrating on the wrong things, a more widespread use of incineration is actually likely to reduce the amount of recycling, as reported in the Wales Online story:

Friends of the Earth campaigner Haf Elgar said the [70%] 2025 target was “totally achievable”.

She said: “It’s already been reached in some regions, such as San Francisco and Flanders, and surpassed by community projects such as the zero waste village of St Arvans in Monmouthshire. However, we’re very disappointed that the toxic bottom ash from incinerators will be counted towards the recycling target in Wales.

We’re deeply concerned about the Welsh Assembly Government’s support for incineration, and the proposals for large-scale regional incineration in Wales. Incineration is not climate-friendly, and it’s well established that building incinerators can negatively impact recycling rates.”

Recent proposals to build incinerators in Cardiff, Barry and Merthyr Tydfil have attracted controversy.

I would say that one of the main reasons the Welsh Government has had to look to things like incineration is because they wanted, but didn't have the ability to legislate on, better targets for recycling.

One more example of the LCO process failing to deliver something totally uncontentious that the Assembly could have passed legislation on back in 2007. We've had to waste (sorry) all this time trying to persuade Labour in Westminster to allow us to do it.

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