The problem with waste

The household waste that Devon's Councils have to deal with every year can fill up a football pitch 1000 metres high. Much of what we purchase ends up as waste and it's increasing - a growth of around 1.25% every year. Each person would probably produce 25 tonnes of waste in their lifetime, left for the next generation to deal with.

Traditionally, most of our household waste has been collected by District Councils and disposed of by the County Council in holes in the ground (called landfill sites). Most bulky household waste has also ended up in landfill sites. This has generally been the cheapest option. However, the capacity of landfill sites is diminishing and European legislation, in particular the Landfill Directive, means that other options need to be considered to manage the volume of waste we generate. The cost of disposing of waste will escalate and, if nothing is done now and no new facilities are provided for the future, this cost will be even greater as it would need to be transported out of the county. Burying our rubbish in the ground is also a waste of natural resources and creates pollution. The government has recognised the problem and has set tough targets for all local authorities to meet. Devon's targets include -

  • Recovering 45% of municipal solid waste (MSW) by 2010/11
  • Recovering 67% of municipal solid waste (MSW) by 2015/16

Reducing the amount of biodegradable waste that is buried in landfill sites.'Biodegradable' means anything that rots, for example food scraps and garden waste. As biodegradable waste rots down it releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and creates a liquid that can pollute the surrounding area if not managed correctly. Devon has to divert at least 25% of 1995 levels of biodegradable waste produced away from landfill sites by 2010, 50% by 2013 and 65% by 2020.

The National Waste Management Hierarchy lists the different methods of dealing with waste, starting with the most environmentally friendly and finishing with the least.

REDUCE - this means creating less waste in the first place. For example, buying products with less packaging, or composting your garden waste and vegetable peelings at home

RE-USE - using things again instead of throwing them away after you have finished with them. For example, unwanted goods can be donated to charity shops, and rechargeable batteries can be used hundreds of times before they need to be replaced.

RECOVERY - this includes recycling, composting and energy recovery.  Recycling means taking scrap material for example and manufacturing it into a new product.  Green waste taken to County Council Recycling Centres and that collected separately by your District Council is composted.  In 2008/09, 51.69% of Devon's houshold waste is recycled or composted.  There are currently no energy recovery facilities for Devon's household waste although landfill gas is collected at three of the operational landfill sites to create electricity which is then fed into the National Grid.

DISPOSAL - via landfill or landraise

As a householder, you can help protect Devon's environment by reducing and reusing your waste wherever possible, and using your local recycling schemes wherever possible. Visit www.recycledevon.org to find out more.