New report says prioritising energy-from-waste policy to 2025 will cut costs and carbon for UK taxpayers in a “win-win” for economic & environmental recovery.

The UK cannot afford to waste any time in tackling its national waste problem sustainably, say cross-party MPs in support of a new report today (16 July), calling for a more “Scandinavian” approach linking energy and waste policy.

The report from UK think-tank Policy Connect argues that diverting the UK’s 27.5m tonnes of residual (‘non- recyclable’) waste for green heat is better for the economy and the environment than current solutions of overseas export or landfill.

It finds widespread deployment of energy-from-waste (EfW) plants across UK regions is needed to deliver a coherent circular and sustainable waste policy that heats and powers UK homes and avoids expensive shipping of waste abroad, and carbon intensive landfill.

The report builds on findings from Policy Connect’s plastic policy roadmap published in 2019 calling for the UK to halt plastic exports and boost UK recycling infrastructure.

This new report concludes that – if plastics are removed and carbon capture technology applied – EfW technology is the ‘safest, cheapest and most environmentally responsible solution to the UK’s residual waste problem’.

EfW can be taken to refer to the suite of technologies, from the proven and available combustion generating power and low carbon heat, as well as emerging technologies including gasification and pyrolysis, producing innovative outputs including aviation fuel, manufacturing chemicals, transport fuels and more.

Road to net zero

The new report – No Time to Waste: Resources, recovery & the road to net-zero – is backed by 13 cross-party politicians.

It calls for a new “Scandinavian” policy approach to ensure the UK’s annual 27.5m tonnes of ‘residual waste’ becomes a strategic domestic low carbon heat and energy resource, rather than a problem to bury or ship abroad.

Even as the UK progresses to its ambitious 2035 recycling targets, a valuable untapped potential for energy-from-waste technologies exists if government pivots residual waste policy away from landfill and export and towards domestic EfW heat networks and carbon capture, the report states.

MPs say ‘stronger policy signals from government’ could unlock billions of pounds of private investment and see UK energy from waste capacity increase to become the nation’s solution for non-recyclable waste, generating low carbon heat for half a million homes.

Currently, the ‘valuable potential’ low carbon heat networks is being ‘squandered’ by outdated national policy and a lack of coordination between local authorities, planners and industry, the report says.

As the country recovers from the economic shock of COVID-19, the report finds EfW plants can help cut emissions from local homes, energy intensive industries, aviation and transport.

It suggests a new policy framework is needed from Government to create stability and certainty to unlock billions of pounds of community and infrastructure investment.

Welcoming the report, Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said: “Now more than ever, it is crucial we move from a ‘throw away’ society to one that always looks at waste as a valuable resource.

“We want to be a world leader in tackling this challenge, which is why we’re transforming our waste system to ensure products are built to last and easier to recycle or repair.

“We will consider the recommendations in this report as we drive forward our ambitious waste reforms and meet our net zero emissions goals.”

What a more “Scandinavian” policy approach means

  1. Continue to drive ambitious recycling and waste prevention
  2. Remove plastics from the UK’s residual waste stream
  3. Halt shipping residual waste abroad and instead use it for domestic low carbon heat, electricity, or synthetic fuels
  4. Minimise all UK waste going to landfill
  5. Continually reassess national waste treatment capacity and requirements
  6. Circular new policy that drives investment into EfW infrastructure to meet increased UK demand
  7. Collaboration across government, with councils, planners, waste and energy industries, to unlock economic, environmental and social benefits of EfW decarbonise EfW further, it is the best available technology, and is an essential part of the net-zero transition ahead of us.”

Jonathan Shaw, Chief Executive of Policy Connect, said: “To hit our Net Zero emissions targets we cannot afford to let the rubbish in our wheelie bins go to waste.

“A more ‘Scandinavian’ approach is needed to remove waste plastics and roll-out the next generation of EfW plants, heat recovery networks for factories, homes and horticulture with carbon capture technologies.

“This will save local authorities and taxpayers’ money, cut emissions and boost UK jobs and economic recovery, post-COVID19. Harnessing the low carbon energy potential of ‘non-recyclable’ waste benefits.

“This next generation of EfW plants will likely be among the last, so without clearer policy signals as we reboot our economy, the UK will waste this valuable opportunity to build back better.”

Energy-from-waste potential

The report states that a more “Scandinavian” approach to UK domestic waste management policy could see the UK on track for its ambitious recycling targets by 2030, but could also see:

  • Green heat for half a million UK homes by 2030: If 80% of our residual waste goes to EfW by 2030, we would be generating enough low carbon heat to support over half a million homes (equivalent to Birmingham; or Edinburgh + Glasgow combined; or Liverpool and Manchester), if we address the heat network challenge and scale up this infrastructure.
  • Emissions reductions to Net Zero 2050: The UK will avoid four million tonnes of CO2 emissions in 2030 alone, if we send 80% of our residual waste to EfW and displace landfill, a figure comparable to the emissions from over nine million barrels of oil. Further emissions will also be avoided by utilising EfW heat.
  • Unlocking investment for new waste infrastructure investment and jobs in UK: The sector stands poised to invest billions in infrastructure and green jobs if the policy landscape allows. Money (£280M annually) currently also spent by the UK on shipping ‘non-recyclable’ waste overseas could instead build domestic infrastructure at home, including 10 state-of-the-art plastic recycling facilities in the UK each year, creating hundreds of regional jobs across the UK.