By David Harrison
LONDON DAILY TELEGRAPH
LONDON — Throw away the green and blue bags and forget those trips to return bottles — recycling household waste is a load of, well, rubbish, say leading environmentalists and waste campaigners.
In a reversal of decades-old wisdom, they argue that burning cardboard, plastics and food leftovers is better for the environment and the economy than recycling.
They dismiss household trash separation — a practice encouraged by the green lobby — as a waste of time and money.
The assertions, likely to horrify many environmentalists, are made by five campaigners from Sweden, a country renowned for its concern for the environment and advanced approach to waste.
They include Valfrid Paulsson, a former director-general of the government's environmental protection agency; Soren Norrby, the former campaign manager for Keep Sweden Tidy, and the former managing directors of three waste-collection companies.
The Swedes' views are shared by many British local authorities, who have drawn up plans to build up to 50 incinerators in an attempt to tackle a growing waste mountain and cut the amount of garbage going to landfills.
"For years, recycling has been held up as the best way to deal with waste. It's time that myth was exploded," said one deputy council leader in southern England.
A spokesman for East Sussex County Council, which plans to build an incinerator, said, "It's idealistic to think that everything can be recycled. It's just not possible. Incineration has an important role to play."
The Swedish group said that the "vision of a recycling market booming by 2010 was a dream 40 years ago and is still just a dream."
The use of incineration to burn household waste — including packaging and food — "is best for the environment, the economy and the management of natural resources," they wrote in an article for the newspaper Dagens Nyheter.
Technological improvements have made incineration cleaner, the article said, and the process could be used to generate electricity, cutting dependency on oil.
Mr. Paulsson and his co-campaigners said that collecting household cartons was "very unprofitable."
Recycled bottles cost glass companies twice as much as the raw materials, and recycling plastics was uneconomical, they said. "Plastics are made from oil and can quite simply be incinerated."
The Swedes stressed that the collection of dangerous waste, such as batteries, electrical appliances, medicines, paint and chemicals "must be further improved."
They added, "Protection of the environment can mean economic sacrifices, but to maintain the credibility of environmental politics the environmental gains must be worth the sacrifice."
The Environmental Services Association, representing the British waste industry, agreed that the benefits of incineration had been largely ignored.
Andrew Ainsworth, its senior policy executive, said, "This is a debate that we need to have in this country. Recycled products have got to compete in a global market, and sometimes recycling will not be economically viable or environmentally sustainable."
A spokesman for the government's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said incineration was "way down the list" because "it causes dangerous emissions, raises public concern and sends out a negative message about reuse."