The UKs Waste Implementation Programme

At its simplest, waste management is taking care of unwanted byproducts, usually of human activities, and ensuring they do not cause any lingering problems. As in many other spheres of human activity, the devil lies in the details. There are arguments over the cost-effectiveness and actual effectiveness of recycling compared to storage, methods and techniques that work well for rural situations are different from those that work well for urban situations, and what is considered reasonable in the developed world is very different from what is considered reasonable in the undeveloped world. There are four basic approaches that are combined to deal with each situation and circumstance. Recycle, which means finding ways to turn the waste into something desirable, Reuse, which involves finding some purpose the waste can still perform, Reduce, which involves rendering the waste safe, and occasionally Re-Think. This last is more controversial, but as an example, it would involve less than obvious responses.

A reaction to wasted cloth in a clothing factory might be to change the cuts to produce more wasted cloth, which will then have sections big enough to use for other purposes instead of merely being thrown away. Often, the best plan in theory will not be possible, perhaps due to a law preventing waste from being recycled because regulations require it to be stored in fifty-five gallon drums. The classic methods are landfill, incineration and composting. More recent concepts include Mechanical Biological Treatment, which combines mechanical sorting of waste into categories, which are then biologically treated. The biological end might involve composting or letting bacteria consume suitable waste. Pyrolisis and Gasification are similar to incineration, but with the added wrinkle that the combustion is exploited to produce energy as well.

The Government of the United Kingdom produced a report in 2002 entitled Waste Not, Want Not. This led to the Waste Management Programme, which sets goals required to meet the EU's legally binding targets to reduce levels of biodegradable waste that is placed in landfills. The targets all refer to the percentage of waste biodegradables which were landfilled in 1995, and by 2010 this should be down to 75% of 1995 levels. This drops further to 50% in 2013 and 35% in 2020. The plan is a comprehensive attempt to attack the problem involving both direct attacks on the treatment of waste and indirect attacks to use investment, regulation, education and economic targets to reduce the waste produced. Goals range from allowing local governments more leeway to effect their waste situation to tax incentives to reuse waste or produce less, to clearer standards to make it easier to tell when goals are met.

Bureaucratic methods involving centralization of responsibility and enforcement are still being explored. Landfill taxes have been increased, and magistrates have been provided with guidance on standards and penalties to aid in prosecution of violators. More than 63 specific recommendations were made in the official report and work is still ongoing for many of them. Finally, research is still underway seeking more dramatic means to deal with the situation.

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