An updated report from WRAP has found that there could be a net benefit to society of £2.1 billion from the introduction of a UK landfill ban.
The report, Landfill Bans: Feasibility Research, is an update of a 2010 study that previously only looked at the financial costs, but now also models the social costs.
It also corrects an overestimate of the negative externalities associated with landfill that was identified in the original report.
This new updated study also provides additional analysis on the cost of household food waste collections “to help shed further light on the merits or otherwise of requiring the sorting of food waste under current market conditions”.
It looked at two different approaches, which either a form of sorting residual waste would be required prior to landfill or a ban on unsorted waste (effectively a ban on sending recyclate to landfill).
The ban on unsorted waste regardless of destination was found to have both the largest climate change benefit and resource efficiency gains.
A ban on unsorted waste considering all materials in the report would have a net benefit to society of a median of £910 million and greenhouse gas savings of 120 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent over the period 2009 to 2024 (net present value). But if only those materials for which there are net social benefits (where the environmental benefits exceed the costs as assessed using the social metric) are considered, then the median value net benefit to society is 73 million tonnes CO2 equivalent and £2.1 billion over the period 2009 to 2024.
Metals, paper/card, textiles, wood and glass would all benefit from a landfill ban, while for food waste it is dependent on the technology used though an average of the technologies indicates a net costs to society.
In all cases, the biodegradeable waste ban leads to net costs to society due to the increased costs of residual waste treatment options such as incineration or mechanical biological treatment. The environmental benefits of switching away from landfill are lower than the additional costs of the treatment.
For metals, the modelled cost benefit analysis suggests a landfill restriction for metals could save £75 million and a landfill ban could increase this to £800 million over the period examined.
A landfill restriction for paper/card would see a £130 million benefit, but a landfill ban would generate a £720 million saving.
For glass, a landfill restriction would generate £9 million, but a landfill ban only around £3 million.
A plastics ban would cost more to society with a landfill restriction leading to £170 million cost, and a landfill ban costing £480 million over the period.
WEEE would also have a net cost with a landfill restriction costing £20 million and a ban £200 million over the period.
For food waste, the assessment is dependent on the uptake of use of biogas. Under a landfill restriction, this might result in savings of £92 million or costs of £290 million depending on whether the gas was used for electricity generation. A landfill ban could save £340 million or cost £1.3 billion depending on the use of the biogas.
When it comes to a ban on biodegradeable waste, the median net benefit to society is negative in almost all cases with MBT coming out most favourable compared to thermal treatments.