Landfill Taxes/Levies

A significant proportion of marine litter originates from land-based sources; a global figure of 80 % is frequently cited, although the origins of this are unclear (Arthur et al. 2014) and figures may vary considerably regionally. The National Marine Debris Monitoring Program, which analyzed marine litter on US beaches[1], determined that 49 % was from land-based sources and 18 % from ocean-based sources, with a further 33 % for which the source could not be identified) (Ocean Conservancy 2007). Up to 95 % of the litter found on Australian beaches comes from suburban streets through the stormwater system (Clean Up Australia 2009). For this reason, measures to promote improved waste management on land have an important role to play in preventing land-based waste from reaching the seas.

One of the most common economic instruments used in the waste sector is the application of a tax or levy on waste sent to landfill. Landfill taxes/levies can help to tackle marine litter by increasing the price of landfill to encourage the diversion of waste to other forms of treatment that are higher up in the waste hierarchy, including closed-loop waste-management processes such as recovery, recycling or reuse. If lightweight items in particular, such as many small packaging items, can be kept out of landfills, this eliminates the risk of them being blown by the wind from the surface of landfills, preventing them from reaching water courses and eventually entering the sea. It should be noted that landfill taxes can incentivise illegal landfilling and fly-tipping as a means of tax avoidance. Estimates of the amount of marine litter that comes from landfill and fly-tipping are limited; one estimate from the Scottish Government is that around 1.6 % of marine litter comes from flytipping incidents (Scottish Government 2013). To stop these unchecked methods of waste disposal from resulting in more waste being blown or washed into rivers and seas, landfill taxes should be accompanied by measures such as the closure of illegal landfills and enforcing fines on those who fly-tip or dump illegally. Producerresponsibility schemes can also help promote recycling (see below).

Landfill taxes are typically charged per tonne of waste landfilled, and there are often different rates for active (e.g. biodegradable) and inert (e.g. mineral/ construction) waste, to reflect the varying environmental impacts of different wastes. A brief overview of the use of landfill taxes is provided here. It should be noted that this is not intended to be a fully comprehensive review of the global situation.

In Europe, many countries have introduced landfill taxes since the EU Landfill Directive (1999/31/EC) entered into force. The directive aims to encourage the prevention, recycling and recovery of waste by limiting its final disposal through landfills, including setting targets to reduce the amount of biodegradable waste sent to landfills and associated methane emissions. In addition, Annex I sets out requirements for the location (e.g. with regard to the proximity of water bodies and coastal waters) and technical specifications (e.g. design features to avoid pollution of soils and waters from landfills, including from wind-blown waste) of landfill sites. There are currently 20 countries2 in Europe that tax waste sent to landfills. From 1995 to 2012, the number of EU countries implementing a landfill tax rose from 7 to 20 (Watkins et al. 2012). Over the same period, the amount of municipal waste sent to landfill decreased from around 63–33 % (Eurostat 2014a). In the majority of cases, the tax is collected by state tax authorities or regional institutions. However, only in some countries (Bulgaria, Finland, Belgium (Wallonia), France, Poland, Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom) does part of the revenue go towards waste management and environmental initiatives (Fischer et al. 2012). The level of the tax varies considerably between countries: Watkins et al. (2012) identified a wide range of tax rates for municipal solid waste, from

€3 t−1 in Bulgaria to €107 t−1 in The Netherlands. Higher landfill taxes tend to result in lower proportions of municipal waste being sent to landfills and higher rates of recycling and composting. The majority of countries with total landfill charges3 of less than €40 t−1 send over 60 % of their municipal waste to landfill.

Countries are much more likely to meet a 50 % recycling target once landfill charges (or the cost of the cheapest disposal option) approach €100 t−1 (Watkins

et al. 2012). It should be noted that the best performing countries in terms of diverting waste from landfill usually also have other measures in place, such as bans on the landfilling of certain types of waste.

The Australian state of Victoria has a levy of €17 t−1 for rural municipal waste,

€29 t−1 for rural industrial waste, €34 t−1 for metropolitan municipal and indus-

trial waste. All levies are paid into the Environment Protection Fund, with revenues from the levy contributing to improved waste management including upgrading of kerbside recycling systems, developing markets for recycled materials, and studies into waste minimization, handling and disposal, organics recycling and litter control (EPA Victoria 2013). The levy in the Sydney metropolitan area has risen sharply since 2006/07 and is planned to reach €84 t−1 by 2015/16 (New Zealand Ministry for the Environment 2014). The state of Western Australia applies a levy of €20 t−1 (increasing to €39 t−1 from 1 January 2015) for putrescible waste and €6 t−1 (€28 t−1 from 1 January 2015) for inert waste deposited in metropolitan landfills. The levy is paid by the owner of the landfill receiving the waste, but they may pass the cost on to customers. Not less than 25 % of revenues will be spent on initiatives to manage, reduce, re-use or recycle waste and to monitor/measure waste, and 7 % provided to the Office of the Environmental Protection Authority to assist in service delivery (Wastenet 2014). Evidence from Australia on the impact of landfill levies is somewhat mixed. The Western Australian Local Government Association claims there is limited evidence that a levy directly disincentives landfill, and that a lack of accompanying investment in waste management can actually be detrimental to waste diversion activities due to reduced expenditure on recycling infrastructure (WALGA 2012). The waste levy in Sydney helped to increase recycling by making waste recovery more financially attractive than landfill; the total quantity of waste to landfill was lower in 2010/11 than 2002/03, and waste recycled more than doubled over the same time period (New Zealand Ministry for

the Environment 2014). Conversely, following the removal of a €25 t−1 landfill levy in Queensland, there was a 20 % reduction in recycling (Ritchie 2014), which indicates that landfill taxes may indeed encourage recycling. New Zealand applies a tax of €6 t−1 to any waste deposited at a waste disposalfacility. This is paid by disposal facility operators, but they may pass the cost on to the households/businesses that generate the waste. The levy's primary aim has been to raise revenue for waste minimization and recycling projects, but the levy was set at a relatively low level to avoid illegal dumping and to reduce the impact on businesses and households. Half of the revenues go to territorial authorities to assist with waste minimization. The rest (minus administration costs) is paid into a national waste minimization fund (New Zealand Ministry for the Environment 2013). A recent review of the effectiveness of the waste disposal levy found that the levy is estimated to be applied to only 30 % of total waste disposed of to land, and that the amount of waste landfilled has increased by around 6 % between 2010 and 2013. Revenues have supported a broad range of waste minimization initiatives, although the funding outcomes should be more effectively measured and monitored (New Zealand Ministry for the Environment 2014).

  • [1] The NMDMP ran from September 2001–September 2006. The US was divided into nine coastal regions; within each region a random selection of between 12 and 23 beach sites was chosen for surveying (175 sites in total). Over 600 volunteers conducted surveys at 28-day intervals, covering a 500-m stretch of beach at each study site, and collected and recorded the various marine debris items found.
 
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