Britain lacks the recycling equipment needed to enforce new EU regulations.
Just 25 miles from the ivory towers of Cambridge University, a pile of 5,000 refrigerators, double stacked, gleams white in the springtime sun. Like sugar cubes spilled from a bowl, the fridges cover almost an acre of land.
"Fridge mountains" are sprouting up around the country, affronting the British sensibilities and reinforcing the gulf that sets this island nation apart from continental Europe.
A recent European Union regulation requires that compounds called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), believed to damage earth's ozone layer, be removed from the insulating foam in walls and doors of discarded refrigerators. But Britain has yet to acquire a single piece of equipment to do it.
With the used appliances stacking up, Kay Twitchen, chair of Britain's Local Government Association's waste committee, foresees a "nightmare for local councils and an expensive one to boot. One in 10 British families throw out a fridge or freezer a year," she says, "which should mean we'll end up with up to 2.4 million fridges on our hands by the end of 2002."
The cast-offs highlight Britain's dismal record on recycling. In all, Britain recycles only around a tenth of its household waste, leaving it low on the list among first-world nations, below most of the other European Union member states, according to figures compiled by Friends of the Earth, an environmental group. By comparison, the Swiss recycle over a half of their household waste, while Americans manage to recycle just under a third of theirs.
With the new CFC regulation, the small-scale fridge recycling that was done has been put on ice.
Before January, when the regulation took effect, John Blake recycled old fridges for the second-hand market and export to the third world. Now they're accumulating in the field near Cambridge.
"I used to export up to 25,000 fridges a year, particularly to Africa, where they're needed to store medicine," Mr. Blake says.
He finds it depressing to now store, for future destruction, what he once recycled. "Anything in your house you don't want, surely it should go to someone who needs it."
Most of Blake's fridges come from Cambridgeshire County Council. According to Lewis Herbert, the council's waste manager, more than 2,000 fridges and freezers were thrown out in Cambridgeshire in January alone. And he's expecting the numbers to rise as more and more of Britain's appliance retailers abandon their long-established policy of picking up customers' old fridges when they deliver new ones.