The Economic Argument

The cost of waste disposal in the UK has traditionally been low since sites suitable for landfill have been readily available, although with some local variability. Increasingly stringent licensing and engineering requirements have driven the cost up in recent years. Increasing public concern about the environmental and health impacts of both landfill and incineration has also acted to limit the availability of sites and increase the cost of disposal. The trend away from small local facilities towards larger, more rural sites has acted to increase transport and handling costs for waste. For certain waste types where few suitable disposal sites exist, transportation costs can contribute significantly to the total disposal cost. Increasing regulation of road haulage and the need for registration and training of carriers may result in further increase in cost.

The introduction of the Landfill Tax in October 1996 and subsequent annual increase in the rates payable since 1999, signalled Government intention to use fiscal measures as a means of supporting a national waste management policy. This policy is intended to move UK waste management up the waste management hierarchy. For FHE institutions and other producers of waste, this has resulted in an increase in waste disposal costs as site operators passed their costs on to their customers. A rate of £18 per tonne in 2005-06 with subsequent annual increases of at least £3 per tonne (with a medium to long term rate of £35 per tonne) means that costs will continue to rise significantly. These continued rises will provide a strong economic incentive for waste producers to reduce the amount of waste that they generate.

The Landfill Directive (incorporated into UK law as the Landfill (England and Wales) Regulations 2002, the Landfill (Scotland) Regulations 2003 and the Landfill Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2003) will also have an impact on costs as alternative means of disposal must be developed. The Directive bans the disposal of certain wastes to landfill (e.g. tyres, some clinical waste streams) and progressively limits the quantities of organic waste which can be disposed of over the next few years. The requirement for increased segregation of waste as a result of this and other directives may also result in increased costs for waste producers.

Economic incentives also exist for those institutions that are able to divert their waste through more environmentally benign disposal routes. A case study from the University of Derby demonstrates the savings that can be made by introducing recycling schemes. The case study from the University of Northumbria demonstrates the savings that can be made from recycling one particular waste stream, fluorescent lamps and tubes. Numerous waste minimisation initiatives in industry have demonstrated the economic benefits that can be gained by efficient resource use and reuse. Practical Waste Management explores the potential for waste minimisation in the FHE sector in more depth.