CCC urges biodegradable landfill ban as carbon reduction efforts stall

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) says the UK should bring forward a ban on biodegradable waste to landfill to 2025 after a new report published by the Committee revealed the UK to be ‘lagging far behind’ on efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions, a recommendation that has split opinion within the waste industry.

In the report, ‘Reducing UK emissions: 2019 progress report to Parliament’, published today (10 July) and which details the UK’s progress on making the requisite actions to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, the CCC listed laying the groundwork for a ban on biodegradable waste to landfill by 2025 ‘at the latest’ as a priority for the coming year, with limiting emissions from non-biodegradable wastes a longer-term priority.

CCC urges biodegradable landfill ban as carbon reduction efforts stallThe UK recently introduced legislation committing the UK to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, but the CCC’s report shows that over the past year the government has delivered just one of the critical policies needed to ensure that carbon emission reductions are on track. In a separate report also released today, not one of the 33 key sectors assessed by the Committee were found to show good progress in mitigating climate change risk.

The CCC’s biodegradable waste to landfill ban recommendation reiterates what it said in May recommending a ban and investment in low-carbon energy technologies such as anaerobic digestion (AD), with the suggested timeframe for the introduction of a ban 10 years shorter than the government’s ambition to introduce one by 2035. Scotland is already set to introduce a biodegradable landfill ban on 1 January 2021, while Wales has an ambition of zero waste to landfill by 2025.

Disposing of biodegradable waste in landfill is undesirable because it produces methane, which is a harmful greenhouse gas, and almost 70 per cent of emissions from waste are caused by the anaerobic decomposition of biodegradable waste in landfill.

Since the introduction of the landfill tax in 1996, biodegradable waste being sent to landfill has fallen by 75 per cent. This has contributed to the 69 per cent fall in emissions from waste since 1990.

Despite these falls, the CCC report showed that the waste sector was behind its carbon emission reduction targets, with landfill emissions falling by 62 per cent from 2007 levels against a target of 74 per cent and biodegradable waste sent to landfill 55 per cent below 2007 levels against a target of 64 per cent.

Commenting on the report, Lord Deben, CCC Chairman, said: “The UK is the first major economy to set a net-zero emissions target and intends to host the world’s leaders at next year’s landmark climate conference (COP26). These are historic steps forward and position the UK at the forefront of the global low-carbon transition. But international ambition does not deliver domestic action. It’s time for the government to show it takes its responsibilities seriously. Reducing emissions to net zero by 2050, requires real action by government now.”

2025 ban ‘cannot be achieved’

Despite the urgency in the CCC’s recommendations, concerns have been raised regarding the waste industry’s ability to cope with the diverted biodegradable waste. Stuart Hayward-Higham, Technical Development Director, SUEZ recycling and recovery UK, said: “Unfortunately an early ban on food to landfill cannot be achieved by 2025 as we have insufficient time to obtain planning and build the replacement facilities to collect and treat the food waste that would be diverted.”

He continued: “Material sums of extra funding will still be needed to fund a whole new “binfrastructure” and vehicles for extra organics waste collection at both local authority level and importantly from businesses, which still account for a significant proportion of food waste.” 

The government has already outlined in its Resources and Waste Strategy that it intends to introduce mandatory separate food waste collections and free garden waste collections across all local authorities, and recently concluded a consultation on this in May. Recognising the extra pressure on existing infrastructure that displaced biodegradable waste from landfill would bring, the government has committed to another consultation next year to consider the infrastructural requirements that will be needed to deal with diverted waste and the financial support needed.

However, Hayward-Higham went on to state that the lack of time between the planned legislative timeframes for the introduction of collections consistency plans, new extended producer responsibility schemes and a deposit return scheme for beverage containers, with these slated to conclude in 2023, would only leave two years to deliver the alternative infrastructure to deal with displaced biodegradable waste.

You can read the ‘Reducing UK emissions: 2019 progress report to Parliament’ report in full on the CCC website.

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