UK Households That Don't Recycle Could Face Fines

By Kevin McCandless | July 7, 2008 | 8:18 PM EDT

London ( - The British government has unveiled a new strategy aimed at combating climate change through cutting waste, prompting fears that taxpayers will bear the brunt.

Speaking in parliament, Environment Secretary David Miliband said citizens who recycle should be rewarded with tax rebates, while those who produce a large amount of waste should be fined.

Among the proposals, residents who put out too many garbage bags a week -- exactly how much is too much is unclear at this point -- should face a charge of around $60 per week.

Another proposal would require citizens to use separate bins or slop buckets for thrown-away food, which in turn would provide a source of biofuels and fertilizer.

Miliband said the proposals would not be enacted until further consultations with town councils. He also insisted that they would be strictly voluntary for councils (although individual households will be required to comply if their council embraces the strategy.)

Miliband described the new measures as "revenue neutral," but many Britons are worried that local councils would use them as a form of "stealth tax."

Research by the opposition Conservative Party has found that 68 councils have already installed microchips in household garbage cans that would identify where they came from and how much trash each home has been using.

Conservative lawmaker Eric Pickles warned that the government would use these chips "to spy on families without their knowledge" and accused it of forcing local authorities to levy new taxes.

For the green group Friends of the Earth, the new strategy is not enough.

The organization praised the government for its commitment to recycling and using food waste as energy, but spokesman Michael Warhurst said that the goal of recycling and composting 50 percent of household waste by 2020 was too low, particularly when compared with other cities in Belgium.

The Local Government Association (LGA) here expressed satisfaction that the government views dealing with waste as a vital problem but said the plan left many key questions unanswered -- especially the question of who will pay.

LGA Chairman Sandy Bruce-Lockhart said councils already face huge financial pressure from escalating taxes for landfills and from huge fines from the European Union for producing excess waste.

"The LGA has argued for more money to pay for dealing with waste," Lockhart said "The strategy sets out plans to almost double recycling targets, which will be impossible to achieve without proper government investment."

LGA spokeswoman Sandra Issar said Friday that separate food recycling was a long way down the road, but that it could eventually prove to useful tool in fighting waste.

"If the money came through -- and that's a big if -- we wouldn't say that all councils would have to do it," she said. "We don't think the government should impose it on all councils."

Airports targeted

Despite the proposed new strategy, some environmentalist groups said this week that it was time to take more radical action against climate change.

Green groups announced that they planned to set up a "Camp for Climate Action" next to Heathrow Airport from August 14 to 21, hoping to draw thousands of people to protest against the government's plans for airport expansion in the next decade.

Organizers said that "mass direct action" will disrupt the activities of the airport and the aviation industry, but that runways would not be blockaded nor the perimeter fence be breached.

Organizer Alex Harvey said Friday the camp would be a functioning "eco-village," using locally sourced food and renewable energy.

Dozens of talks and seminars would be held on the effects of climate change and what can be done about it, she said.

The camp in Britain would follow two similar camps in Oregon and the Carolinas held earlier in August. It's time for ordinary citizens to step up in the fight against climate change. Harvey said.

"Not only are the governments not doing enough, not doing it seriously, we're not sure that governments can actually solve it themselves," she said.

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