Incinerators are not the answer – Juniper

Tony Juniper, executive director of Friends of the Earth, has told waste professionals that he believes Government is backing the wrong horse by supporting a new wave of incinerators as part of the solution to the UK's landfill problems.

Speaking at the Chartered Institute of Wastes Management (CIWM) spring conference in London on Wednesday, Mr Juniper argued that the traditional arguments against incinerators were as strong as ever and the increasing importance of cutting carbon emissions made them less attractive still.

Waste and its treatment and disposal accounts for around 2% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, he said, and the industry had a role to play in efforts to address climate change.

“Every sector is going to have to play its part, including the question of how we use and dispose of resources,” he said.

“It’s a small part of the overall emissions but it has to be part of the solution.”

He said increased recycling would be key to this, as would designing waste out at the production stage to ensure more resources could be used.

Britain needed to learn from its European neighbours in this area, he said, citing the example of the aluminium can recycling rate in Norway of 95% compared with around 50% here.

“Why the heck can’t we do this in the UK?” he said.

“We’re not a backwards or developing country.”

With widespread acceptance that landfill was an environmentally unacceptable way of dealing with waste, alternatives are needed, said Mr Juniper, but pursuing incineration is the wrong path.

“It’s the wrong track to get on at a time when we need to be reducing emissions drastically,” he claimed.

“We should be looking at phasing out both landfill and incineration in favour of more recycling and reuse.”

Large-scale incinerators are costly and long-lived, he said, and in order for the economics to stack up they need to be in constant operation which means there is a risk of waste which might have been disposed of in a more sustainable way being used to feed their appetites for fuel.

“Incinerators shouldn’t be rebranded as an energy recovery technology,” he argued.

“They are not power stations, they’re designed to dispose of rubbish and so they are not efficient in terms of energy production.”

And, he said, much of what they would burn would be oil-based, like plastics, which means they are effectively burning fossil fuels.

Efforts to stem the rise of the incinerator should include a ban on the burning of materials which could be recycled and an escalating tax on incineration along similar lines to the existing landfill tax.

“Eco efficiency has got to become the name of the game in terms of how we use resources and dispose of them,” he said.

“We’re probably going in the right direction on the European level but less so on the UK side.

“But we’ve still got everything to play for.”

Sam Bond

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