The government has announced a fundamental review of England’s waste policy at a conference in London’s Docklands.
Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said the ambition for a zero waste society was a commitment to creating the “greenest government ever”.
While getting to grips with waste was one of the biggest challenges, it would also provide some of the biggest opportunities, the Futuresource audience heard on Tuesday.
Mrs Spelman said: “This green government will help deliver the green jobs, the green technologies and the greener economy we must achieve to ensure a future that is both secure and sustainable.
“Our review will look at every aspect of waste policy and waste management delivery in England, including household and business waste and recycling services.”
The aim is to maximise the contribution waste prevention and management can make to the green economy.
Waste to landfill has reduced by a third since 2001 and household recycling is now more than 38% compared to just 9% ten years ago. Recycling green waste has gone up 13% in the last decade.
While significant progress to reduce the waste mountain had been made, it needed to go faster and further, said Mrs Spelman.
She added: “Waste is one of the biggest economic and environmental challenges we face. We cannot keep putting recyclable and biodegradable material into landfill. It threatens the environment and wastes what are incredibly valuable natural resources.
“Landfill is expensive and we are paying twice when we bury resources like aluminium in landfill, when used aluminium fetched around £800 a tonne.”
She explained that it takes 20 times more energy to manufacture new aluminium cans from raw materials than use recycled materials.
A greater volume of biodegradable waste is expected to go through anaerobic digestion, a chemical process which generates renewable energy and lowers levels of greenhouse gasses from landfill.
Mrs Spelman said the government was interested in incentives, not punishments, to encourage waste reduction.
She praised schemes like RecycleBank in Windsor, where residents who have increased recycling by 35%, are rewarded with vouchers to use in shops like M&S.
Mrs Spelman said: “I want to see a new type of public consciousness about waste. Where consumers make deliberate decisions about preventing waste and buy only what they need and recycle or re-use what’s left.”
But she added that businesses and manufacturers needed to redouble their efforts to shrink waste generated by unnecessary packaging and food waste. She said the government would ensure they have the facilities and opportunities to recycle.
New ways of dealing with commercial waste and promoting ‘responsibility deals’ with businesses to cut waste will also be considered.
The review will involve input from various government departments, the waste management industry and local authorities. The findings will be unveiled by next Spring.