A nation turning into a wasteland


RICK BOOTH tries his best. When the father of two young children goes shopping for food he avoids pre-packaged products in favour of fresh meat and vegetables. He refuses to buy consumer goods clad in what he describes as excess packaging and is assiduous in recycling his newspapers and bottles to help keep down Scotland's growing mountains of waste.
When his young daughter requested a sand-pit for Christmas, he made one from an old, discarded hot water tank, which he painted bright red in time for the big day.

But at his home in Lower Largo, Fife, which he shares with wife Jean and daughters Grace and Catherine, he feels like King Canute trying to halt a never-ending tide, especially in the aftermath of Christmas.
"I do what I can to prevent it building up but the amount of waste we still have to deal with is just immense," he says. "The paper bin out the front just now is choc-a-bloc with wrapping paper and we'll be glad when that's taken off our hands."
Booth, a 32-year-old photographer and heating engineer, accepts he plays a part in waste creation and has thought about how to reduce his impact. "If I go to the supermarket to buy a piece of meat, I'll try and go to the butcher's section so it doesn't come packaged up. I'd have no problem if food was presented with less packaging."
Despite his good intentions he harbours pangs of guilt. "I have to put my hand up and say we use disposable nappies and that doesn't help," he said. "And although we regularly recycle newspapers and bottles one of the main reasons we don't recycle plastic and metal is the mountains of rubbish that would create in the back garden.
If you have a load of plastic then the easiest thing to do is to chuck it in the bin.
"A lot of this boils down to the individual and whether people are willing to go the extra centimetre to reduce waste. I've been to plenty of Hogmanay parties where all the bottles are piled into a black bag at the end of the night and destined for the skip. But it's a difficult thing to change people's habits and there's loads more to be done."

According to the latest official report on Scotland's largely household-generated waste, Booth may also be guilty of understatement. In 1994, local councils collected just over three million tonnes of waste from homes and businesses throughout the country. That is more than half a tonne for every man, woman and child in Scotland.
Yet in 2004/5, the last year for which official statistics are available, that figure had soared to more than 3.5 million tonnes, despite a decade of European Union, UK government and Scottish Executive encouragement to manufacturers, retailers and consumers aimed at helping reduce the nation's waste mountain.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency's (Sepa) latest Waste Data Digest, published last week, details the grim story. Since 1994, the total waste collected has not fallen but risen by 13.8%. And if current trends persist, total waste will rise to more than 4.3 million tonnes by 2020.
It means that despite more Scots embracing a routine of weekly recycling materials such as newspapers, cardboard, cans and glass - the rate has risen from 12% to 25% over the last three years - the waste mountain continues to grow. In 2004/5 the amount of rubbish simply tipped into landfill sites was the same as the previous year.

Environmental groups say policies aimed at reducing waste are not working.
"It is worrying that, despite increased recycling levels, Scotland's waste mountain keeps growing," said Duncan McLaren, chief executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland. "This is not just bad for the environment but risks hefty fines from Europe.
"In the rush to address Scotland's appalling recycling record, government has forgotten the importance of making waste prevention and reuse the overall priority. It is vital we see action to tackle the throwaway culture, addressing over-packaging, junk mail, disposable products and food waste as quickly as possible."
The main reason for the increase, according to Sepa, which monitors trends in disposal and enforces related legislation, is the increase in waste produced mainly by Scotland's households.
Increased disposable income, more single person households, fashion trends, convenience-led lifestyles and lower costs of food and drink are contributing to the increase, the agency says.

Although the rate of increase in disposable incomes in Scotland has slowed marginally over the last two years, due to increases in interest rates and utility bills, the trend has been upward for almost 40 years. Combined with the easy availability of consumer credit, this has fuelled high street booms in consumer products - shops in Scotland last week reported trading figures up to 13% higher than last year over the festive period - which has, in turn, generated vast quantities of extra packaging.

The increasing number of households, fuelled by rising divorce rates, also increases the volume of waste. The number of single-person households in Scotland is forecast to rise by 26% between 2002 and 2016, which could have a dramatic effect on amounts of rubbish produced. One recent study found that a one-person home generates 9.9kg of waste per week compared with a relatively-modest 20.6kg for a five-person household.
Scotland's increasingly convenience-led lifestyle is also a problem. The British work longer hours than any other country in Europe, and busy parents have less free time to prepare meals so reach for heavily-packaged supermarket meals and takeaways. Difficult to recycle polystyrene cartons, foil trays and pizza boxes have become a major component of rubbish dumps. Less free time also means an increase in the use of items such as disposable nappies and one-use hand-wipes.
Attitudes to consumer goods have also changed. As Ross Finnie, the Scottish Environment Minister, made clear last year, the "make do and mend" society has long disappeared. "People would rather buy a new item than repair it," he said.

Sepa says supermarket chains should also shoulder some of the blame. Economists have found that food price inflation has been lower than general inflation for at least a decade, mainly due to low-pricing policies pursued by large food retailers.

Two-for-one and three-for-two offers are among the chief culprits, persuading customers to buy more food and drink than they actually need.
Across the UK, five million tonnes of food waste are generated each year. In Scotland, according to a Prudential insurance company survey, an average home throws away more than £438 of food every year.
Friends of the Earth Scotland says consumers have to change their lifestyles to make a long-term impact on waste reduction. "Lifestyle change is vital. For instance, rejecting ready meals and cooking fresh food so the only waste is vegetable peelings that go in the compost bin," says McLaren. "Recycling is only half the battle because if we don't get serious about prevention Scotland will lose the war on waste."

The Scottish Executive says it wants to stop the annual increase in waste by 2010. Yet last year it failed to back one high-profile initiative by Lib-Dem MSP Mike Pringle, who had submitted a private members' bill to Holyrood calling for a 10p levy on plastic bags handed out by retailers.
Although successfully adopted in Ireland, it was killed off last September by fellow MSPs on the Scottish parliament's environment committee, who were unconvinced of its long-term benefits.
Instead, Scotland is to get a Waste Prevention Action Plan, following a Scottish Executive consultation exercise last year, to be published in the spring. This is likely to produce tougher sanctions for retailers who fail to reduce excess packaging.
Although the Packaging (Essential Requirements) Regulations, passed by the UK parliament in 2003, require companies to minimise packaging, they are not rigorously policed by trading standards officers and there have been no prosecutions.

Making manufacturers or retailers responsible for collecting used disposable items is one option under consideration by the Executive, as is developing reusable cartons for everyday items such as washing powder. Far more controversial would be legislating a ban on two-for-one offers and similar bargain deals.
But the Executive says: "Responsible promotion of products by retailers is entirely legitimate. Promotion of 'two for one', 'three for two' or free gifts can, though, create waste by persuading consumers to buy more than they actually need."

The Executive plans to recruit the consumer in its battle on waste. A spokesman said: "We have set ambitious targets to increase the amount of waste we recycle and the Scottish public has responded well to that challenge.
"We recognise, though, the importance of tackling waste growth and reducing the amount of waste we generate. Consumers have an important role to play. We can compost at home, refuse to accept over-packaged produce, and participate in voluntary schemes to minimise unwanted mail."
Moves include campaigns to persuade more people to sign up with the Direct Marketing Associations's free Mailing Preference Service, which stops most unsolicited mail but only 148,000 households in Scotland have so far registered. Cooked food waste is a major problem as it can attract vermin if it is not properly contained. The Executive will try persuade people to buy home food digesters that turn organic waste into nutrient-rich liquid to be spread on the garden. An alternative is a wormery, which also turns waste into compost.

Finally, ministers also want to turn Scots into a nation of complainers, willing verbally to take on shopkeepers who are guilty of over-packaging and rejecting over-packaged goods.
"The best companies learn from what customers are saying and improve accordingly," the Executive's consultation paper says.
"However, traditionally the UK consumer has not been skilled at making effective complaints to providers. Key points are to remain calm, to be assertive without being aggressive and to be clear about what you are complaining about."

So next time you take that tin of biscuits from within the food hamper that was delivered in a cardboard box you know what you have to do. Your country needs you.
Waste not, want not: how we each throw away £1,725 a year

EXCESS waste is not only bad for the environment, it also hits everyone's pockets. According to a survey by the Prudential insurance company, the average British adult wastes £1,725 on unneeded food, gadgets, entertainment, transport, luxury items and hobbies every year.

• Food is the biggest culprit, with each adult wasting more than £400 annually, with a third admitting to throwing out unwanted food every week and half admitting to over-ordering takeaways.
Around 60% of consumers confess to throwing out lettuce, bags of salad, bread and fruit every week, while more than 40% toss milk down the sink and cooked meats in the bin.
Spread and dips (37%), cheese (33%), prepared meals (24%) and fresh meat and fish (23%) were also favourites to make their way from shop to dump without hitting a plate. A perhaps surprising 17% of consumers said they threw away unfinished bottles of wine.
• Clothes were another waste of money, with more than 63% of women buying outfits in sales they never wore or wore just once. Meanwhile, 56% admitted to purchasing shoes they never put on and 43% bought toiletries they never used.
• New hobbies that are never seen through are also a drain on the pocket and the planet's resources. The average adult wastes more than £300 annually on kit, equipment and gym memberships that are rarely used, or DIY projects and evening courses that are never finished.

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