The Future of Waste in the UK

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President Benjamin Franklin famously said “that in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” We would go one step further and say the only things you can really rely upon happening in life are death, taxes and rubbish. Every society in human history has produced waste and last year the UK alone produced an astonishing 202.8 million tonnes of the stuff. That’s equivalent to filling Wembley Stadium from the pitch all the way up to the roof with a big pile of rotting waste every week and the amount we produce goes up inexorably every year.

Despite these mountains of waste being produced, there is no consensus as to what to do with it. Across the UK, we burn it, we bury it in big holes, we compost it, we recycle it, we export it and sometimes we use it to produce electricity. These different approaches vary enormously across both the UK and Europe even though at a macro level the composition of the waste stream is broadly similar. Or to put it more succinctly, every town and factory in Europe is producing roughly the same type of waste in big piles but seemingly everybody has a different idea on how to treat it.

The situation is made more complex by a plethora of European legislation, local planning guidelines, huge variations in collection systems and arguably the vested interests of existing industry players and funders.

This lively Question time debate will try to hack through this dense thicket of complexity to get to the basic question of “what as a society should we do with all our rubbish?”

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