The Guardian today reports that councils in England and Wales are spending £4.5bn on dealing with waste. If you're an average Council Tax payer, 18 per cent of your Council Tax bill goes to waste. If you live in Cambridge, the figure is even double that.
The statistics aren't new; they mainly come from the Audit Commission's Well Disposed report, published in September 2008. At the time nobody thought to ask for a comparison between the cost of disposing waste and the total amount of Council Tax collected. But now we know; waste is expensive. In 2007/08, councils paid an estimated 900m in Landfill Tax to central government. And the figure will go up; next year Landfill Tax will increase by 20 per cent, from £40 to £48 per tonne of waste.
What is a striking observation, then, is that local councils are spending very little on waste reduction. Of the total £4.5bn spent on waste in 2007/08, only £43m went on initiatives aiming to reduce waste. Even cutting back on junk mail - generally regarded as a relatively painless way of reducing waste - is hardly being promoted by local councils; 75 per cent of council in England and Wales don't encourage people to register with junk mail opt-out schemes such as the Mailing Preference Service.
To be fair, the UK is likely to meet targets for reducing the amount of waste that gets dumped in landfill in 2010. By next year, we will have reduced the amount of biodegradable waste sent to landfill to 75% of the level it was in 1995. The question is, will this be achieved thanks to or despite efforts made by local councils?