Call to tackle UK business waste

The government needs to step up efforts to reduce waste from business, according to a parliamentary committee. The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee recommends using variable VAT rates to cut unsustainable consumption of raw materials. Its report says pressure has so far concentrated on householders, who account for only 9% of the UK's waste. Environment minister Joan Ruddock said the government does have measures that are inducing businesses to cut waste. Those measures include the landfill tax escalator under which the tax on landfill will rise by £8 per tonne each year until 2011. The committee acknowledged that this had been effective in reducing the amount of waste dumped in landfill sites, but said other initiatives were needed. "We would like to see the VAT regime reformed so that products that have a long life-cycle, or can be easily and cheaply repaired rather than replaced, are made economically more attractive," said Lord O'Neill, who chaired the sub-committee on waste. "This would be an important step in turning away from the 'throwaway' consumer culture we currently have." 'Disappointing' cuts About one-third of the UK's waste is produced by construction and demolition, and a further third by mining and quarrying. Nevertheless, the committee says, government action and media attention have concentrated on the much smaller contribution from households. Councils too should change focus, it recommends, to prioritise reducing waste from businesses. Some business leaders interviewed by the committee said each company should be made responsible for the waste associated with its own products, a recommendation that the committee endorsed. Lord O'Neill said this would ensure that "manufacturers who behave irresponsibly face financial consequences and those who are doing the right thing are supported." Another recommendation is that the government should ring-fence a proportion of revenue raised from the landfill tax for agencies charged with reducing business waste. Envirowise and the Waste and the Resources Action Programme (Wrap) are among the agencies whose budgets are being cut - a move about which the committee expresses "extreme disappointment". The committee also refers to an issue often expressed by environmentalists - that the advice that people receive in the UK focuses too much on recycling, and not enough on reducing consumption. The argument is that policies should aim first at reducing what people use, then encourage re-use, and only then stimulate recycling. "If our society was to implement the hierarchy effectively, a far smaller amount of waste would need to be disposed of after all the previous stages had been put into practice," the committee concludes.

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