Hampshire waste bosses face tough questions after household recyclables were dumped in landfill sites.

More than 1,300 tonnes, about 300 truckloads, of materials such as paper, plastic and cans have been tipped since last May instead of being sorted and re-used.

Officials at Project Integra, the joint partnership which manages disposal of household waste for local authorities across the county, blame a lack of reprocessing facilities.

They say the recycling scheme has been a "a victim of its own success." And the amount of recyclables being collected in Hampshire is currently greater than the county council's capacity to sort and send for reprocessing.

A new facility is being built near Alton to process an additional 85,000 tonnes of waste yearly, but it will not be finished until mid-2004.

Meanwhile the existing materials recovery facility (MRF) at Portsmouth, which handles 70,000 tonnes of waste yearly, is operating at full capacity. Throughout last year recyclable waste was trucked at a rate of 1,000 tonnes per month to an MRF in Essex.

Now there is not spare capacity there either and the plan is to use a second MRF in Surrey instead of landfill.

But councillors are demanding to know why they were kept in the dark about what has been dubbed "Hampshire's waste scandal."

Disposal of household waste is contracted to Hampshire Waste Services, a branch of French-owned company Onyx.

Hampshire Lib Dem environment spokesman, Keith House, has written to the county council's environment chief, Keith Estlin, demanding an explanation.

Mr House said: "I was first tipped off before Christmas that Hampshire had started sending recyclable materials to landfill. Little did I realise at the time that the amount of waste was so large."

He said people needed to have confidence that when they carefully sorted their waste for recycling it would actually be recycled. Lib Dem Basingstoke and Dean district councillor, John Shaw, branded the landfill "a disgrace and scandal."

"The amount of paper, plastic and cans would fill a typical refuse collection vehicle 300 times over. At a time when we are trying to recycle more, to find out that lorry after lorry load has been sent to landfill is very worrying."

Lib Dem Winchester city councillor, Jim Wagner, whose portfolio includes environmental health, said he was "very surprised and disappointed".

"It does not send out a good message to the public at a time when we are trying to increase participation" he said.

Councillors, including Mr Estlin and Mr Wagner, said they were first told of the landfill at a board meeting of Project Integra on Fridayeight months after it had begun.

Mr Estlin was also unaware that recyclables have been trucked to an MRF outside the county for a year despite environment being his brief. Steve Reed, executive officer for Project Integra, said he had been asked to investigate the "breakdown in communication".

"The board was already aware that there might be a problem with capacity. What I will be looking into is why it took longer than expected to highlight that materials were going into landfill."

Mr Reed said: "We don't like the fact that some has gone into landfill and have plans to sort that out in the short-term."