16 JULY, 2020 BY 

Environment minister Rebecca Pow has said she will consider a report backed by 13 cross-party politicians calling for expansion of energy-from-waste (EfW) in the UK.

Pow did not indicate whether any of the report’s recommendations would be adopted, but called think tank Policy Connect’s No Time to Waste – Resources, Recovery & the Road to Net-Zero “a really great piece of work”.

The report is backed by 13 politicians from the All Party Parliamentary Sustainable Resources Group – seven Labour, four Conservatives, one Liberal Democrat and former Environment Agency chair Lord Smith, now an independent.

Policy Connect said that despite having given priority to waste prevention, reuse and recycling, the UK needed to urgently manage its growing problem of 27.5 million tonnes a year of  residual waste. 

It said the country could no longer afford to either export or landfill this and that it should instead go to EfW plants, including incinerators.

Politicians should admit that EfW was “the safest, cheapest and cleanest solution to the UK’s plastic-free, residual waste problem”, the report said.

It added the Government should clearly signal that new EfW plants must be fitted with carbon capture carbon technologies and be connected to district heating systems.

It said EfW plants connected to these were commonplace across much of Europe, including in most large Scandinavia cities.

Most northern European countries gave grants or tax relief and power export support.

“The UK is a long way behind the rest of Europe when it comes to utilising EfW heat,” the report said.

Pow said the Government recognised it was unavoidable that some residual waste could not be recycled and that EfW was the best treatment option in this case, while landfill was the worst.

She wanted to see the number of EfW plants with active district heat networks increase; currently only 20% of those in the UK have these.

Pow said overall the report was a “really great piece of work” that highlighted the challenges in dealing with residual waste, and she will consider its recommendations.

Opponents of incineration often state that is removes material from recycling because of the need for a continuous feedstock.

Policy Connect said it “found no evidence to support this” and that EfW could go “hand in hand with the best recycling performances”. 

European countries with the best recycling rates, were also those with more EfW and less landfill, it said.

Pow said the report’s conclusion that EfW does not necessarily compete with recycling was “good to know”.

FCC Environment operates six EfW plants, with one in construction. Its chief executive Paul Taylor said: “For some time now we have been working to minimise waste to landfill for many reasons including space, tax, emissions, and perpetual maintenance. 

“Similarly, sending our waste for recovery overseas post-Brexit is not viable and will simply fuel unnecessary carbon emissions. 

“The lack of clear, joined-up policy signals means the UK is wasting valuable domestic opportunities to scale low carbon heat networks with the potential to support hundreds of thousands of UK homes and businesses.”

Jacob Hayler, executive director of the Environmental Services Association said: “The report shows that EfW infrastructure provides the most cost-effective and lowest carbon solution for household and municipal waste as the UK transitions to decarbonised heat and power by 2050.  

“Our sector will continue in our efforts to drive up recycling and to remove as much plastic from the residual waste stream as possible, but we must stop sending non-recyclable waste abroad and instead make better domestic use of this source of heat and power domestically.”

Richard Kirkman, chief technology and innovation officer at Veolia UK and Ireland said: ”We have supported energy-from-waste and have grown our energy recovery facilities to create jobs, generate power and divert waste from landfill. 

“We have millions of pounds of shovel ready renewable infrastructure where we are ready to press the button, and as long as the hurdles are removed to those developments and the right incentives are in place, we are confident that the economy will be primed for this green renewal.”