Report: By April next year, England will be burning more waste than it recycles

New Green Party report warns surge in waste incineration levels mean valuable materials are going up in flames

By April 2019 England is on course to be burning more waste than it recycles, according to a new report released today by the Green Party.

Across London, the West Midlands, and the North East more rubbish is already burnt than recycled, and other regions are set to ensure the overall UK rate of incineration reaches a similar level by the end of this financial year, the report claims.

Between April 2018 and April 2019, just over 12 million tonnes of waste are predicted to be incinerated, compared to just under 12 million tonnes of rubbish which is set to get recycled, according to predictions extrapolated from current trends and cited in the report.

Green Party peer, Baroness Jenny Jones, said the high rates of incineration are holding back improvements in recycling rates, which have plateaued at 45 per cent in recent years.

"There is every chance that some of the plastics, cardboard and paper that people took care to separate for recycling, will end up being burnt alongside everything that was thrown in the waste bin," she said.

"There is a logic to generating energy from the waste that we cannot recycle, or reuse, but it is meant to be the last resort option. What we have created instead is a market driven system of incinerators which constantly need to be fed."

Incineration levels across the UK have soared from 5.5 million tonnes of waste in 2012/13 to more than 10 million tonnes in 2016/7, according to the report. The trend has driven a major drop in the amount of rubbish heading to landfill, from almost nine million tonnes in 2012/13 to four million tonnes in 2015/6. But critics claim it has contributed to a stalling in recycling rates in parts of the country as local authorities divert rubbish to incineration plants.

"Many councils have signed up to long term contracts with incinerators and my research shows that these have some of the worst recycling rates in the country," Jones said. "In fact, many of these councils have gone backwards and recycle proportionately less than they did six years ago. Let me be clear that it is not the case that people in central London, or Birmingham, or Portsmouth are bad people who are unwilling to recycle, it is because their council is bad at recycling and has let them and their environment down."

But the Renewable Energy Association (REA), which represents Energy-from-Waste (EfW) firms, argued the paper makes no distinction between rubbish that is simply burnt, and energy-from waste plants where the energy from incineration is captured to generate electricity.

"There is a stark difference between incineration and EfW plants and it is inappropriate and misleading to group them together," REA head of policy and external affairs James Court told BusinessGreen. "Energy from Waste has a crucial role to play at the end of the waste hierarchy, ensuring that the amount of waste going to landfill is minimised and that we are able to recover energy in the form of power and heat, as well as using advanced conversion processes to produce transport fuels and green chemicals for the capital."

Instead, he blamed the stagnation in the country's recycling rate on austerity measures and poor regulatory enforcement. "Reductions in local council funding and the relaxation of regulations are responsible for the stagnating recycling rates across England, so it is quite wrong to point the finger at a modern technology that is quite obviously a crucial piece of a broader puzzle," he said.

In light of Baroness Jones' findings, the Green Party is calling for councils to be forced to hit tougher recycling targets. The report also calls for a moratorium on new incinerator plants being built, arguing any new capacity will simply increase the likelihood that waste which could be recycled is sent for incineration.

Aberdeenshire economy buzzing with activity

A range of local business developments which demonstrate the strengths of the area’s economy have been welcomed by Aberdeenshire Council, as a new economic action plan for the area is introduced to reflect a more positive economic outlook.

Named as Fishing News 2017 ‘Port of the Year’ Peterhead Port handled a record £195million worth of fish during 2017. The port is currently undergoing a £51 million investment and opened the UK’s biggest fish market in June, landing a huge sale of 5,990 boxes on opening day.

Nearby Fraserburgh Harbour, also an important fishing port, has been diversifying, recently being announced as the preferred port for the Moray Offshore Renewable scheme as a base for operation and maintenance of renewable projects being developed in the Moray Firth.

The Council worked with the harbour to support its bid and roads and transportation teams are continuing to provide logistical support as necessary to both Fraserburgh and Peterhead ports.

Global energy firm Equinor and its partner Masdar recently unveiled their Batwind project in Peterhead, for the first time making it possible to store energy produced from an offshore wind farm.

Electricity produced at the world’s first floating offshore wind farm, Hywind Scotland, located 25km off the coast of Peterhead, will be transported via cables to an onshore substation where 1 MW batteries are placed and connected to the grid. The battery capacity is the equivalent of more than 128,000 iPhones.

As the wind isn’t always blowing, energy storage technologies like batteries are expected to become increasingly important to secure grid stability as renewable energy becomes ever more significant.

And in agriculture, the council’s Garioch Area Committee recently approved planning permission for an expansion of Thainstone Mart, supporting an application designed to assist the local industry’s long term future.

Local councillors also gave approval to an application by Scotbeef for a state-of-the-art abbatoir at Thainstone, which will replace outdated facilities and create around 130 jobs.

The recent announcements come as Aberdeenshire Council’s Infrastructure Services Committee (ISC) gave its approval to a refreshed Regional Economic Strategy (RES) Action Plan.

The RES provides a shared vision and ambition for the future of north east Scotland to align commitment, lead investment and coordinate action in pursuit of its economic growth and diversification objectives.

Co-signatories are Aberdeenshire Council, Aberdeen City Council and private sector partners Opportunity North East (ONE).

The Strategy is influenced and driven by a wide collaboration in north east Scotland, including the national enterprise and skills agencies and regional economic partners.

The partners have been reviewing the Regional Economic Strategy given significant and improving economic investment and outcomes across the region.

This has resulted in the development of a new, revised and updated Regional Economic Strategy Action Plan for 2018-23.

ISC chair Peter Argyle welcomed the significant developments around the area and the signals they send out to others who may be interested in investing.

He welcomed the refreshed RES Action Plan and said: “There are strong signs of significant and improving economic investment and outcomes across the region and we all have to continue to work to secure a bright future for the north east economy.

"The new, revised and updated Regional Economic Strategy Action Plan for 2018-23 sets out how we can achieve that, but it is important to note recent developments in the area which show an increasingly positive business environment."

Leader of Aberdeenshire Council, Jim Gifford, added: “The council is working with its partners in many areas to improve our local economy and it's great to see signs that businesses are feeling more confident and we are keen to support that wherever we can.

"Our focused work in the northern towns of Peterhead, Fraserburgh, Banff and Macduff is showing real signs of progress, with lots more to come, and our local communities are showing this really is a good place to do business."