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Preventing Household Waste in Scotland: A Consultation Paper: January 2006, Paper 2006/1


1. Introduction

"Higher levels of obesity and personal debt, chronic time shortages, and a degraded environment are all signs that excessive consumption is diminishing the quality of life for many people" The Worldwatch Institute

1.1 This consultation outlines the causes of waste growth and seeks views on how to tackle this growth. It covers a wide range of areas as the causes of waste growth are varied. When considering the best way forward, we will want to concentrate on those areas where we can have a genuine impact on the generation of waste.

1.2 In 2003-4, Scottish Households produced around 2.66 million tonnes of waste 1. The average household produces just over 1.1 tonnes of waste a year. This waste is increasing by around 2% a year. Information on the composition of household waste can be found in SEPA's Waste Data Digests: see, for example, Table 3 in Waste Data Digest 5 at http://www.sepa.org.uk/pdf/publications/wds/wdd_5.pdf

1.3 The main reasons for this increase in waste are:

  • Increased disposable income - there is a clear link between growth in GDP and waste generation, both having grown by around 40% in the OECD countries as a whole since 1980 2. The availability of consumer credit has also fuelled demand for products, which can then lead to increased generation of waste.
  • More single person households - The number of people living in single person households has risen. More households mean more goods are bought, e.g. more furnishings, electrical appliances, DIY goods etc. In Scotland, the number of single households is expected to grow by 26% over the period 2002-2016. 3 A recent study using South Norfolk District Council data showed the average (mean) weekly production of total waste (residual and recycled) was 9.9 kilograms for one person households; 12.7 for 2 person households; 16.5 for 3 person households; 18.6 for 4 person households; and 20.5 for 5 person households. However, the study also showed significant differences in waste produced within types of household, with some single person households generating more waste than some five person households. 4
  • Convenience led lifestyle - The British work more hours in a week than any other EU15 nation 5 and consequently have less free time. This results in a demand for greater convenience and speed, contributing to an increasing demand for ready meals, fast food and a vast array of disposable items.
  • Fashion trends - today's society is more fashion conscious than ever, and with many goods available at low cost, the norm is to replace items when they go out of fashion, or when the 'next' model is available.
  • Changing attitudes - there is no longer an attitude of 'make do and mend' - people would rather buy a new item, than repair an old one. Indeed, there are financial drivers influencing this attitude. An analysis carried out by Halifax PLC showed that over the 15 years from June 1989 to June 2004, repairs and maintenance charges increased by 147%, whilst the cost of electrical appliances fell by 20%, as did the cost of children's clothing, and the cost of women's clothing fell by 34%. 6
  • The low cost of food - Over the last decade, food inflation has tracked well below the general rate of inflation owing largely to the low price strategies of several large operators. This has contributed to a large amount of food wastage - currently estimated at 5 million tonnes for the UK (as compared with 4.6 million tonnes of household packaging waste).

What do we mean by waste prevention?

1.4 There are a number of definitions of waste prevention. We take it to mean:

  • Strict avoidance - the complete prevention of waste generation by, for example, reducing unnecessary consumption.
  • Reduction - reducing waste by designing and consuming products which generate less waste.
  • Product re-use - re-using a product in its original form, for its original purpose or for an alternative use.
  • Qualitative waste prevention - reducing the hazardousness of waste.

1.5 While, strictly speaking, home composting and community composting are not waste prevention (as waste is still produced), they are included in this consultation paper as they are key measures to reduce the amount of waste collected by local authorities.

What policy tools are available to tackle waste prevention?

1.6 There are a range of policy instruments to tackle waste prevention, including:

  • Economic instruments.e.g. taxes. Fiscal measures are a reserved matter for HM Treasury, although local taxation is a devolved matter.
  • Incentivese.g. deposit-refund schemes.
  • Legislatione.g. producer responsibility legislation, bans on certain hazardous materials and on certain materials going to landfill, direct and variable charging for the collection of household waste.
  • Education and awareness raising, to change values/attitudes and then behaviour, e.g. 'resource efficient shopping', home composting, real nappies.
  • Voluntary agreements and partnerships such as supply chain and community partnerships, e.g. on product design and packaging, take back/reuse, and direct marketing.