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SNP plan new laws to force recycling of food

HOUSEHOLDS in Scotland will be expected to separate food waste from other rubbish so it can be used to generate electricity under new SNP plans due to be brought in by 2013.

Councils, as well as businesses such as supermarkets and restaurants, will have to dispose of food separately from other refuse within three years, under the ambitious Zero Waste Plan, published yesterday.

The Scottish Government said that it hopes the mandatory changes in the way rubbish is collected will help cut down on the amount of waste being sent to landfill.

The SNP hopes the food waste will be used to feed a large number of new "green" power plants, known as anaerobic digesters, which turn the organic matter into energy and fertiliser.

The move has been welcomed by environmentalists, but is likely to alarm some people already struggling to separate rubbish into various boxes.

Richard Lochhead, the environment secretary, said: "There is an estimated 2.1 million tonnes of food waste produced in Scotland each year.

"If even half of this was captured and processed through anaerobic digestion it would generate enough electricity to power a city the size of Dundee for six months and produce around 10 per cent of Scotland's arable fertiliser needs.

"As well as reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, our food waste could greatly contribute to our renewable energy targets."

The changes will mean most households in Scotland will be given an extra collection box by their local council, and will be expected to separate out food waste, as well as materials such as paper, card and glass for recycling.

There are concerns about how the scheme will be funded, and the business sector is worried about possible penalties if they fail to follow the rules.

The Zero Waste Plan, which has taken two years to produce, also brought in a target to send a maximum of 5 per cent of all waste to landfill by 2025.

This replaces a far less ambitious existing target to send a maximum of 5 per cent of household waste – which makes up just 15 per cent of rubbish – to landfill by 2025.

And a new target of recycling 70 per cent of all waste by 2025 was also pledged in the strategy document.

The mandatory collections of food waste from 2013 will be followed, by 2015, with bans on food and recyclable materials being sent to landfill.

The expense faced by councils and businesses to bring in the changes to rubbish collection have not been calculated, but a recent report for the Scottish Government concluded that delivering the SNP's plans would cost billions of pounds.

However, the cost of not taking action could be even higher because of looming European fines for sending waste to landfill, and landfill taxes that will go up to £80 a tonne in 2014.

New legislation will be drawn up to bring in the changes in the Zero Waste Plan. It is not yet known whether there will be penalties if local authorities and businesses fail to comply.

Mr Lochhead, launching the strategy at the Edinburgh International Climbing Arena in Ratho, a former landfill site, said that every home in Scotland throws away on average £430 worth of food each year. Food rotting in landfill releases methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times as potent as .

"Rather than carelessly discarding materials to landfill, we can create new products and generate renewable energy, heat and fertiliser, while creating over 2,000 jobs," he said.

Six local authorities – East Renfrewshire, Stirling, Inverclyde, Aberdeenshire, Glasgow City, North Lanarkshire and Perth and Kinross – have already trialled food waste collections.

Iain Gulland, director of Zero Waste Scotland, said it made "perfect sense" to meet the need for heat, electricity and fertilisers using "materials we currently treat as waste, but are in fact a valuable resource".

"Delivering zero waste will mean a transformation in how we think about the things we throw away and it should usher in a new era of true zero waste technologies like anaerobic digestion," he added. "This is about economic necessity as much as being an environmental 'nice to have'."

Already anaerobic digestion plants are springing up in Scotland – one being built by Scottish & Southern Energy at Barkip, North Ayrshire, capable of processing 80,000 tonnes of waste a year, is due to be completed next year. And a £7.5m digester for Scottish Water Waste Services in North Lanarkshire, able to recycle 30,000 tonnes of waste food a year, will be operational this summer.

However, a spokesman for the Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland said he was "very wary" of the changes because there was no practical or affordable way for firms to dispose of their food waste and recycling separately from other rubbish.

Andy Wilcox, Scottish policy convener at the FSB, added: "The infrastructure to serve everyone in business simply isn't available at the moment and will take years to put in place.

"That's why we need concerted action by local authorities and the Scottish Government now to ensure that businesses aren't penalised for not using services which don't exist."

Duncan McLaren, chief executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland, supported the move and said the Zero Waste Plan made "welcome steps in the right direction". However, he criticised the government for failing to set an overall target for reducing volumes of waste produced in the first place.

And Liberal Democrat environment spokesman Liam McArthur questioned whether the resources had been made available to achieve the targets. "

For the households, businesses, schools and others expected to help achieve these waste targets, it is vital that the government wills the means as well as the ends."

Green MSP Robin Harper , accused the government of "simply going through the motions".

He accused the SNP of scrapping the 25 per cent cap on waste going to incineration in favour of "some even less restrictive conditions".

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