Why we need a ban on sending wood to landfill

This post is by Dustin Benton, who leads Green Alliance’s Resource Stewardship theme.

The UK has made real progress in reducing landfill in certain sectors, including packagingconsumer goods, and hospitality, over the past two years.

Indeed, the European Commission recently found that the UK ranks above average for its waste management. But its report did give the UK one red flag: unlike other similarly positioned countries, we haven’t restricted biodegradable materials from landfill.

Recycle and recover
Achieving Defra’s aim of a zero waste economy means ending the landfilling of materials such as wood, which can be recycled, recovered, or as a last resort, burned. As Green Alliance’s 2009 research, Landfill bans and restrictions in the EU and US showed, there is widespread international consensus that, in combination with effective supporting policies, landfill bans work. In our study, the introduction of a ban reduced landfill by 20 per cent on average. As such, it is a positive sign that Defra is consulting on restricting waste wood from landfill.

A landfill ban for wood waste would complement the landfill tax, and would ensure that the maximum value of waste wood is captured. A landfill restriction, set out with five to seven years of forward visibility, would provide a level playing field for businesses. It would also provide certainty to materials re-processors, by enabling a steadier stream of waste feedstock to enter their market.

Don’t just burn it
But in order to be most effective, the landfill ban needs to be complemented by policy to encourage higher quality waste wood to be reused rather than incinerated. And of course, having similar restrictions on landfilling in England, Scotland and Wales would help to reduce any unintended incentives to transport wood waste unnecessarily.

We should also look at evidence from our neighbours and consider extending restrictions to other obvious biodegradable and highly recyclable materials such as food waste.

Following the lead of Scotland and Wales
It’s sensible to not introduce unnecessary regulation, so Defra is right to ensure that the case for a landfill ban is sound. But the leadership shown by Scotland and Wales, along with the ample international evidence on the economic value that well-designed landfill restrictions create, show that landfill restrictions work.


  • Certainly wood should be reused where possible, but isn’t there a case for sequestering carbon by burying wood at the end of its useable journey? I don’t think it turns to methane for generations in most conditions.

  • I have no problem with well taregted and properly enforced regulation, the current stance on growth by government and some in industry, on deregulation appears somewhat disingenuous. Good regulations don’t create an economic burden, they provide a level playing field and clarity for investment, for which, there is a relatively small cost.
    Wood is a good case in point, it is a fledgling market (as a commodity from waste) with various categories of wood (some of which have a value and some that don’t), which are generall poorly segregated or sorted. This causes a number of regulatory problems, however these are normally triggered by a significant fluctuation in price (or market failure).
    Although at first a landfill ban may seem like an obvious solution, it may be too obtuse to deal with the complexities surrounding wood waste (and its interaction with other wood sources). It may in fact, be better ti regulate closer to the source of production (front as opposed to end of pipe) and look more closely at the resource issues.
    Landfill bans will eventually work, but at the present there is a slump in wood prices and a lot is being stockpiled, causing problems with local amenity and fire risk. The option of landfilling could be a valuable safet valve in such circumstances. These are not insurmountable problems, but until markets and infrastructure are more stable, a landfill ban may not be the best solution.

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