The waste landscape is in danger of splintering itself

You'll have to forgive me. I've been up since 5am. Seventeen hours later of sore feet and solid networking, I am starting to slowly dissolve into the hotel carpet. But this is the first day of Sustainability Live, organised by our own Faversham House, and my head is buzzing like a firefly.


This year sees the launch of a new show for us, EFW Expo, showcasing the very best of the UK's energy-from-waste mix. It has already provided a lively platform for many a passing delegate to bend my ear about the role of energy recovery in a landscape that appears increasingly dominated by waste prevention strategies, whether designed out or optimised for hierarchical gain.

And opinion is divided. Truly, truly divided. Some argue that the role of energy-from-waste remains not only valid, but necessary. "No matter how you try and slice this up, there will always be waste that you cannot recycle," was how one observer framed it to me.

Another pointed to what appears to be plateauing recycling rates in England, arguing that mandatory targets now need "another shot in the arm" if any real progress is to made further up the waste hierarchy. "Let's face it, energy-from-waste is convenient and the messaging around it is getting better," was their considered response.

But then, there is a flipside to all of this. I heard of how some local authorities are backtracking on separate food waste collections due to nervousness over planned energy recovery infrastructure and the implications this might have for feedstock supply into these facilities. It's a really complicated picture out there right now.

At a higher level, the EU is tightening the legislative reins on resource efficiency; it's mapping out a roadmap for prevention. Recent reports have hinted that we may be building ourselves into overcapacity on the energy-from-waste front. WRAP is getting more vocal; it recently cautioned against too much emphasis on incineration to the detriment of material optimisation.

Our own divergent policy strands are really not helping. A glory shout from the borders: "Look at us!" - as Scotland leads the charge towards zero waste in legislative armour. Wales just quietly gets on with it. Even Northern Ireland is starting to grasp the nettle. Leaving England twiddling its thumbs, wondering which way to turn.

If our governments at local, regional, national and European level are divided, what hope is there for synchronicity of travel at ground-level? No wonder opinion is opposed. What the waste industry is crying out for is clear vision, a strong steer, something that it can eventually unite behind because it has no other choice but to. I fear this plea may be falling on dear ears.

maxine perella

Topics: Waste & resource management
Tags: energy from waste | Energy Recovery | food | Food waste | incineration | Infrastructure | Ireland | opinion | Scotland | WRAP | zero waste
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