Magazine article The Spectator

Rubbish Policies

Magazine article The Spectator

Rubbish Policies

Article excerpt

Over the past few weeks, the Cambridgeshire countryside where I live has resembled Dante's Inferno. The horizon has been punctuated by plumes of acrid black smoke rising from farmyards and corners of isolated fields. Come to think of it, no matter where I've been in the English countryside lately there have been plumes of smoke and an omnipresent tang of burnt plastics.

I guessed the reason, and a call to the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs confirmed it: it's the result of the government's latest initiative on recycling and waste disposal. Next year new rules will prevent farmers disposing of their waste on their farms. No more shall they be allowed to bury their old fertiliser bags on their land or burn them along with last year's rotten straw, or dilute their used sheep-dip and spray it on the land. Instead, they will have to have all waste disposed of in licensed waste-disposal sites.

I wouldn't choose to argue with the purpose of the new laws, which is laudable. Nobody wants the countryside strewn with fertiliser bags and drenched in sheep-dip. Of course it would be better if farmers were made to dispose of waste properly and recycle it where appropriate. The problem is that the rules for disposing of waste are becoming so tortuous, and the costs so unreasonable, that it comes as little surprise that farmers should seek to dispose of their farm waste in one last, nationwide bonfire before the new rules come in.

There is no greater source of pollution in modern Britain than the government's environmental policy. They are all terribly well-meaning, these recycling schemes, these landfill taxes, all this licensing of waste dumps. The only trouble is that they are making things worse. Take fly-tipping, which has increased by 40 per cent in the past two years. Rubbish is being dumped in lay-bys, fields and woods at a bewildering rate. Between April and July this year there were 55,000 incidents of fly-tipping in Yorkshire alone. It isn't just the countryside, either. There have been cases of gangs renting warehouses on business parks, filling them to the ceiling with waste and doing a runner.

There is a straightforward reason for this illegal dumping. The rise of the landfill taxes and the decline in the number of licensed dumps have greatly increased the cost of disposing of waste properly, and provided a huge incentive to chuck it over the nearest hedge. The chances of fly-tippers being caught are minimal, and even when they are caught the punishments are so light that the dumpers are able to treat them as just one more business expense. You've got to be a bit stupid to do what John Hutcheson, a carpet-fitter from the village of Benwick, Cambridgeshire, did: he left an invoice number on a cardboard box which he dumped along with carpet and underlay on a grassy track near Whittlesey, an offence for which he was fined £150 at Peterborough magistrates' court in September. I don't argue with his conviction, but it isn't hard to see how he arrived at the decision to dump the carpet illegally. I rang up Fenland District Council and asked an officer what Mr Hutcheson should have done with it. As a tradesman he was forbidden to dump it in a 'household waste disposal site'; these facilities are now only to be used by householders disposing of waste from their own homes. Instead, I was told, 'he should have rung us up and we would have sent somebody out in a van to inspect the waste. …

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