The amount of waste managed by local authorities and sent to incinerators, or energy-from-waste plants, tripled between 2010-11 and 2016-17. By contrast, household recycling rates have stalled since 2013.

If those trends continue, the millions of tonnes of waste incinerated will overtake the amount sent for recycling by the end of the current financial year, a report by the Green party found.

London, the West Midlands and north-east already burn more than they recycle.

The Greens, who argue that incineration is bad for climate change and holds back recycling rates, said it was shocking that recycling was now going to be overtaken nationally.

Baroness Jones, the Green party peer, said: “There is a logic to generating energy from the waste that we cannot recycle or reuse, but it is meant to be the last resort option. What we have created instead is a market-driven system of incinerators which constantly need to be fed.”

In 2016-17, the last year for which official data is available, about 4 million tonnes were landfilled, about 10m incinerated and just over 11m recycled or composted.

However, the Greens did not look at how many new incinerators are in the planning pipeline and only extrapolated from previous trends.

Just one new incinerator started construction last year, in Bristol, suggesting the rapid growth in recent years may be slowing down.

There were 40 energy-from-waste facilities in the UK in 2017, up from 26 in 2014. Together they have a combined operational capacity of handling 12m tonnes of waste a year, a figure that experts expect will rise to nearly 16m by 2022.

Jacob Hayler, executive director at waste trade association the ESA, said: “Too often the debate is set up as recycling v incineration – that’s the wrong way to frame it. Really, it’s landfill against incineration for things you can’t recycle.”

He said cuts to local authority budgets were to blame for recycling stagnating, not incineration growth. “The trend is there isn’t enough policy support for recycling, so recycling rates have slowed down.”

The French, British and Spanish firms looking to build more incinerators will also come under scrutiny for their impact on air pollution on Tuesday in a cross-party report by MPs.

Adam Vaughan 

This article first appeared on the Guardian

edie is part of the Guardian Environment Network

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Comments (3)

  1. Roger Munford says:

    About 30 years I lived in Munich and the authorities wanted a THIRD incinerator. The argument for recycling actually won the day and so the third was never built. However after a period of time one was converted to coal and the other was shut down. Germany has a nationwide ban on domestic landfill.
    I dont think that it has to be pointed out just how successful the German economy is so we can assume that they don’t mess about.
    Another idea from our past and other countries supported by the University of the Bleeding Obvious is the use of REUSEABLE packaging like bottles.

  2. Christopher Bennellick says:

    Gloucester are building the largest incinerator in creation? 500M Old technology on a vast scale! Its 4 times the size of Exeter who are now scaling down their incineration in favour of major recycling and Biomass manufacture. Gloucester is so big that the county cannot feed it 24/7 and have to resort to deliveries of waste from all over the UK? Surprisingly from a reliable source they are even thinking of tendering from the EU??!!!!!!!
    There will be in access of 70 trucks a day & night feeding the furnaces, so say to produce electricity into the grid?This on an already congested road?
    Its a major white elephant and as recycling and Biomass takes over, while industries cut back on packaging and waste it will need to seek out rubbish from around the world??
    Incredible. The Government that sanctioned it "Pickles I believe" conservative had no real understanding of waste and the dioxins and pollution that could very well hit Gloucester and the towns and villages close by????
    They had a real opportunity to create a major recycling industry with major research in the process but choose not to!!! for reasons like big business takes over, environment comes second??????
    What an absolute waste of money!!
    Its out of date before being built? It demands huge resources thereby fostering and trying to maintain waste? its life span is no more that 5 years,before they have to source waste from around the world? It will send a plume out over Gloucester and the pollution will be carried on the westerlies. There is no such thing as zero pollution, FACT??The EU waste tax that is currently in force will no longer apply after Brexit and by then we should be scaling down our land fill by recycling with industrial reductions in waste? after all industry doesn’t want waste or packaging as that’s just wasted money? and the supermarkets are also following suit!!!! there are numerous ways of packing and sending products onto the open market instead of the waste that currently exists!!!!
    No it’s folly on a grand scale yet they know this???? Having discussed this with specialists that have real inside knowledge of the incineration as opposed to Gasification it’s absurd and like trying to reinvent the 60tys technology with a twig or to???
    No Mr Government this contract needs to be stopped and then converted into a major recycling plant with more jobs for Gloucestershire.

  3. Roger Munford says:

    Christopher, I am really really sorry to hear about this. I followed it a bit in Private Eye a few years ago but assumed that sense had prevailed.
    About 30 years ago, Hampshire was a "beacon" council for recycling for a while but when the incinerators arrived (replacing older ones) recycling fell by the wayside and Hampshire languishes at the bottom of the national recycling league.
    While Munich kept its last incinerator going the city did not fully join in with the nationwide "yellow bin" packaging recycling in order to feed the incinerator.
    This looks really stupid from Europe. The still have waste incinerators left over from a bygone age and according to Private eye, the UK had the option of sending waste to Belgium at rock bottom prices which would have tied us over until the recycling infrastructure was in place but politicians become obsessed with these projects. Being the UK the politicians become obsessed with 30 year old ideas that are clearly wrong. Damn them and their stupidity.

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