Waste is a potential resource, not a problem
The UK sends more waste to landfill than any other nation in Europe. We dump nearly 20m tonnes of rubbish in the ground. Germany, by comparison, sends less than 500,000 tonnes to landfill. We recycle or compost only one-third of our municipal waste, lower than the EU average. Austria manages nearly 60%.
Our addiction to landfill is immensely damaging for the environment, producing methane which is 20 times more harmful than carbon dioxide. It has also meant that we have failed to see waste as a potential resource for materials and energy. Processes like anaerobic digestion can produce green energy from food waste. Germany has 2,500 such plants, while we have fewer than 30.
The Labour government has allowed Britain to lag behind in finding greener ways to dispose of waste, but the action it has taken has also been fundamentally misguided. Instead of helping families to go green, Labour has sought to bully people with bin taxes.
The Conservatives believe that instead of punishing the public, we should give people incentives to do the right thing. The RecycleBank scheme which we proposed today is a perfect example of this approach.
By paying people to recycle, the scheme has been extremely successful in the US, increasing recycling rates by up to 200% in 500 cities and communities across the country. The initiative, which is funded by savings in landfill tax, has recently been trialled by the Conservative controlled Windsor and Maidenhead council, with people receiving rewards such as M&S vouchers. The results have been equally impressive: recycling rates have already risen by 30% and the average household is on course to receive £130 in vouchers.
I visited the borough earlier this year during the trial and saw firsthand just how effective this can be in helping families go green. The energy secretary, Ed Miliband, foolishly dismissed our proposals out of hand. Perhaps he should visit Labour-controlled Halton council in Cheshire which is now trialling RecycleBank too.
By setting a floor under the 2013 level of landfill tax up to 2020 - which guarantees that the landfill tax will not fall in real terms for 10 years - we are sending a strong message to companies and councils that innovative approaches like RecycleBank, and alternative forms of waste disposal, can be developed with confidence.
We should be ashamed that we still lag behind our peer group nations when it comes to going green. It is time for a new approach that encourages the public to do the right thing, regards waste not as a problem but as a potential resource, and drives forward towards the goal of a zero waste society.