Incineration debate out in open at last

It was something of a Pandora's Box for the waste industry but now the debate on incinerators is out in the open sector professionals have reacted with relief.

The launch of the Government’s Waste Strategy Review consultation has blown the lid off any plans to keep the mushrooming of publicly-unpopular energy-from-waste incineration facilities hushed up.

Local Environment Minister Ben Bradshaw said at the February launch he had yet to see a realistic proposal that did not include incineration and could still redirect enough waste away from landfill to meet EU targets (see related story).

The Minister said there was no question more incinerators would be built and a real effort must be made to persuade the public of their value.

Now the Chartered Institute of Waste Management (CIWM) has responded to the document, calling it an important first step in ensuring England is well-placed to meet European waste targets.

CIWM deputy chief executive Chris Murphy said: “We are pleased that the debate about energy from waste has come out into the open. There needs to be greater understanding that it is impossible to recycle everything and that something has to be done with the remaining waste.

“Energy from waste has advantages over landfill in terms of environmental protection, and offers the added benefit of heat and power at a time when we need to ensure security of energy supply for the future.

“Supporting energy from waste in appropriate circumstances does not discourage waste minimisation or recycling.

“This is clearly illustrated by some other European countries where high recycling levels are being achieved coupled with acceptance of energy from waste to provide heat and power for households and commercial premises.”

CIWM also sees it as a positive step forward that the document places more emphasis on business waste through, for example, extended producer responsibility and further engagement of SMEs.

While there must be effective policy to tackle household waste, it also has to be acknowledged that industrial, commercial and agricultural sectors are responsible for the majority (over 90%) of waste production.

Mr Murphy said: “There will be increasing pressure for organisations to think much more about resource use and waste costs as part of their overall business planning process.

“Policy-makers, regulators and waste management companies for their part will need to develop strategies and systems for dealing effectively with all these different waste streams at a local, regional and national level.

“The paper highlights the need to pull household and industrial waste streams together – a rare occurrence at the moment – in order to allow economies of scale and cut down on transportation.

“This document also illustrates the pressures on local authorities to meet very demanding recycling targets. Considerable progress has been made to reach an average recycling rate for municipal waste in England of 23%, but our performance is still lagging well behind a number of other European countries.

“The paper identifies challenging targets of 50% recycling and composting by 2020. So that local authorities can achieve these, we are likely to see more specific measures to improve recycling performance, which could mean more of an investment of time or money by householders.

“For example, householders in some European countries are charged differently dependent on the type and amount of waste they produce.”

CIWM is also pleased that the paper acknowledges the fundamental problems caused by the lack of waste facilities highlighting planning delays, a lack of suppliers, long procurement timescales and investment issues.

“All these issues must be tackled if we are to stand a chance of meeting European waste targets and to move onto the next level in terms of truly sustainable waste management policy for the UK,” said Mr Murphy.

Incineration has found some unlikely allies within the waste industry, among them composting professional Alexander Maddan, MD of Agrivert.

He argued that recycling and energy-from-waste incineration could work together and there was no reason burning rubbish needed to undermine the waste hierarchy.

“Waste streams suffer from increased cost and environmental impact the more that is recycled from them – an unpalatable but solid fact”, he said.

“If one splits a representative household waste fraction, one can, within a reasonable cost margin, extract 35% of biodegradable waste for composting or anaerobic digestion. A further 35% of dry recyclate such as paper, metal, plastic or glass can also be economically extracted.

“Thereafter there is about 30% of mixed residual waste that it is simply not effective or economic to recycle.

This 30% needs a home and whilst landfill is its current route, this route reaps nothing from this fraction.

“Incineration, via an energy from waste plant, effectively deals with this for a real return in energy terms.”

by Sam Bond

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