Last reviewed 24 October 2017

Landfill tax reached an all-time high in 2017 and is set to rise even higher in 2018, adding considerably to business operating costs. Is it time for businesses and other waste producers to consider reducing the amount of waste they produce and even eliminate waste to landfill altogether? John Barwise looks at some of the options.

Landfill tax was just £7 per tonne when it was first Introduced in 1996, but rates have risen year-on-year ever since. The current tax rate for 2017 is £86.10 per tonne, rising to £88.95 from April next year — that’s on top of the actual cost of disposing waste to landfill, which is also rising. Landfill operators are liable for the tax, but it is businesses and other waste producers that pay the charges in higher disposal prices.

Landfill tax is an environmental tax paid by businesses, local authorities and other organisations that want to dispose of waste in landfill. Its primary aim is to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill by encouraging businesses and others to use alternative means of waste management, such as reuse and recycling,

All the indications suggest that the tax is working. Tonnages of waste going to landfill has continued to fall as tax rates have risen, and it is widely regarded as one of the driving forces behind increases in recycling and resource efficiency. Yet despite the obvious cost savings, many businesses are still generating more waste than they need to and failing to capitalise on recycling and other resource efficiency opportunities.

There’s also the problem of landfill capacity. There are only around 500 operational landfills in England and Wales, and the UK relies heavily on exporting a lot of non-recyclable waste. Uncertainties over a future trade deal with Europe and China’s recent restrictions on imports of post-consumer waste could put added pressure on UK sites in the near future.

Waste management alternatives to landfill

Growing concern over landfill capacity and the rising costs of waste disposal has led to a range of new initiatives designed to improve resource efficiency and minimise business waste across all industry sectors.

The construction industry, for example, is one of the UK’s biggest consumer of natural resources and produces more than a third of the UK’s total waste output. Yet, according to recent studies, up to 30% of some construction waste materials that end up as waste have never even been used.

Resource management services group, Reconomy, has published a toolkit to help construction managers develop their own site waste management plans (SWMPs). The SWMP is designed to:

  • improve resource efficiency — by maximising reuse, recycling and recovery of waste, to minimise disposal into landfill

  • maintain an audit trail — to track waste removed from site and monitor compliance with environmental regulations

  • promote awareness — among managers and workforce to improve environment management performance.

The focus of an SWMP should be to move up the waste hierarchy.

  1. Prevention — minimise waste at the design, logistics, planning and procurement phases, including:

    • design building size to eliminate off-cuts

    • implement “just-in-time” delivery to prevent the build-up of materials on site

    • develop “take-back” schemes with suppliers to eliminate wastage of surplus materials.

  2. Reuse — consider reusing material in another phase of a project or on other projects. One example is the reuse of excavation material in later development phases.

  3. Recycle — consider options for waste that can’t be reused may be recycled into useful material. A common example is demolition arising, which can be crushed to provide recycled aggregates for fill, capping and sub-base layers.

  4. Recover — consider whether there is anything else that can be extracted from your waste, such as waste containing mercury or other non-ferrous metals that can be recovered.

  5. Disposal — a last resort, sending waste to landfill after all other options have been considered and exhausted.

The SWMP Guide for Construction Managers is available from Reconomy here

Making a commitment

Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), which was set up to promote sustainable waste management, has published a number of industry sector guides to help businesses improve resource efficiency and reduce waste to landfill.

One of WRAP’s key initiatives was to set up the Courtauld Commitment — a voluntary agreement aimed at improving resource efficiency and reducing waste across the food and drink industry. WRAP estimates that the costs associated with waste generated from the UK supply chain and households equate to £19.4 billion per year (£12.5 billion household waste and £6.9 billion supply chain waste). In its third Courtauld Commitment (CC3), WRAP aimed to:

  • reduce household food and drink waste by 5% by 2015

  • reduce traditional grocery ingredients, product and packaging waste in the grocery supply chain by 3% by 2015

  • improve packaging design through the supply chain to maximise recycled content as appropriate, improve recyclability and deliver product protection to reduce food waste, while ensuring there is no increase in the carbon impact of packaging.

Over 50 grocery retailers and food and drink manufacturers signed up to CC3, which completed at the end of 2015. The final report of achievements show impressive results:

  • over £100 million business savings delivered by reducing food waste

  • product and packaging waste reduced by 3%

  • recovery and recycling rate grew from 95% in 2012 to 99% in 2015

  • 7% reduction in carbon impact of food and drink packaging

  • a notable increase in surplus food and drink redistributed for human consumption.

WRAP estimates that 219,000 tonnes of food and packaging supply chain waste have been saved with significant volumes of waste moving up the waste hierarchy, from landfill disposal or incineration to recovery (including energy from waste) and recycling.

Zero waste to landfill

The concept of a zero waste economy first surfaced during the Coalition Government, under its Waste Prevention Programme, published in 2013. The aim of the programme is to prevent waste at source by encouraging better product design using fewer materials with a stronger emphasis on a circular economy, where waste is reused rather than ending up in landfill sites.

Earlier this year, the Carbon Trust set up the UK’s first “Zero Waste to Landfill” standard as a way of recognising an organisation’s achievements in reducing its environmental impact by actively diverting its waste streams from landfill through reuse, recycling or recovery.

A common interpretation of zero waste to landfill is that at least 99% of generated waste is diverted from landfill, ie all waste produced is either recycled, composted, reused or sent to energy recovery. The Carbon Trust’s framework for businesses to verify zero waste to landfill claims involves five guidelines:

  1. Measure — measuring waste provides valuable management information about how waste is generated and ways to reduce it.

  2. Identify — reviewing waste streams and how they are being disposed of will allow you to focus on areas where waste is most likely to be sent to landfill, for example — contaminated waste may have to go to landfill.

  3. Reduce and manage — the standard uses the EU Waste Hierarchy as a guide to reducing waste sent to landfill. Waste options are considered on a preferential scale, whereby waste prevention and reduction are the best options, followed by recycling and energy recovery from waste. Incineration without energy recovery is ranked the same as landfill, at the bottom of the hierarchy.

  4. Collaborate — working with reputable and innovative waste contractors that can help facilitate business goals to divert waste from landfill to better waste management routes.

  5. Engage — engaging with employees, backed by senior management, will help build a zero waste culture that identifies waste as a potential resource that can be reused. Contractors and suppliers should also be engaged in this process, because much of the waste, such as packaging, will have been generated by upstream suppliers.

The five-point plan for zero waste is designed to stimulate resource efficient, lower carbon emissions and significantly reduce waste to landfill. According to the Carbon Trust, the Zero Waste to Landfill standard is a reward to those organisations — or individual sites within organisations — that are making a difference by sending zero waste to landfill. Details on the Carbon Trust’s Zero Waste to Landfill standard and certification are available here.

Concerns over natural resource depletion and rising costs of raw materials, combined with relentless pressure on landfill capacity and costs of disposal have added momentum to the concept of a zero waste economy. The EU programme, Closing the Loop — An EU Action Plan for the Circular Economy is the latest Europe-wide initiative aimed at improving resource efficiency and build a stronger business case for reducing waste to landfill.

Further details, including guidance on circular economy, ecodesign and supply chain management are available to Croner-i subscribers in the relevant topics here.