Councils blame a sharp increase in the amount of rubbish collected and a slump in the market for recycled bottles and paper. In some areas a fifth of the waste is incinerated or sent to tips. Councils say most is still recycled but many experts beieve the system must be radically overhauled.
'There has been a serious failure in the market for recycled rubbish,' said Professor Chris Coggins, of Sheffield University's waste management centre. 'Too much rubbish is collected, and the firms that buy and process rubbish don't compete on price and lack the capacity to deal with it.'
The amount of domestic waste collected for recycling in England and wales rose from 1.7 million tons in 1997 to well over 2 million tons last year. It is expected to reach more than 10 million tons by 2010.
Such demands will be hard to meet in Sheffield. Sheffield Reclamation employs nearly 60 people to collect and sort rubbish for recycling but their efforts are often in vain as nobody will buy the mountains of plastic and paper. General manager Terry Flower estimated that up to a fifth of the rubbish went to tips.
In Aberdeenshire, 1,000 tons of newspaper was collected even though managers of the recycling service knew it would be sent to a tip. Waste services manager Jack Clark, said: 'It's impossible to recycle everything - there just isn't the market for it. But we still collect everything from people because we don't want to confuse them over what they can and cannot put out for us.'
In London, Mike Nicholls, general manager of the West London waste authority, which deals with Brent, Ealing, Hillingdon, Harrow, Hounslow and Richmod, said: 'Getting rid of green glass in the last 12 months and paper over the last two years has been a problem, and waste like this can find its way into landfill sites.'
This autumn Mr Meacher will announce a programme designed to stimulate demand for recycled products.
Recent research, however, suggests that the introduction of wheelie bins could be part of the problem as they lead people to produce 30% more waste. York has already replaced its large bins with smaller ones in an attempt to cut down on the mountains of rubbish.