Getting energy from burning waste in incinerators produces 33% more greenhouse gases than burning coal in power stations, according to research published by Friends of the Earth on Wednesday.

Despite this, waste companies and Government alike promote it as a “green” way of dealing with rubbish. FOE’s waste campaigner Dr Michael Warhurst said: “The Government and waste industry must stop peddling the myth that waste incineration is green energy.

Incinerators can generate electricity, but they produce more climate emissions than a gas-fired power station.”

The environmental group released the report entitled A changing climate for energy from waste as the consultation period on the Government’s long-term waste strategy (see related story) comes to a close.

While the strategy aims is to “reduce the impact of waste on climate change,” it proposes an increase in the proportion of waste incinerated from 9% to around 27% by 2020.

As we get better at recycling and the proportion of burned plastics decreases, fossil fuel-derived CO2 released from burning waste is likely to fall. But the report estimates that by 2020 incinerators will still be almost as polluting in CO2 terms as new coal-fired power stations, and 78% worse than gas-fired ones, taking changes to technology and recycling into account.

“The Government must make it clear that they will not support the building of such polluting plants. Using these incinerators to produce energy will undermine Government attempts to tackle climate change. Ministers must back truly renewable energy sources instead,” said Dr. Warhurst.

The report says the Government should invest in greener waste-to-energy methods instead, such as anaerobic digestion, a process by which methane is produced from kitchen and commercial food waste, and burnt as fuel to produce energy.

The full report commissioned by FOE from Eunomia Consulting can be accessed here.

The Government’s waste strategy review can be accessed here.

Goska Romanowicz

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