Incinerators make recycling targets impossible to achieve, report suggests

Building more incinerators in the UK could “limit the maximum achievable recycling rate to 63%”, a report by Eunomia has suggested

One of the incinerators in the UK

12th issue of Eunomia’s Residual Waste Infrastructure Review has suggested that incinerators are a barrier to achieving UK recycling targets.

This is because incinerators need to be constantly fed with waste, which may dilute UK recycling ambitions.

The Eunomia report states that: “we forecast that the maximum recycling rate achievable in 2030 if all treatment capacity is fully utilised has fallen to 63%.”

According to Shlomo Dowen, National Coordinator of the UK Without Incineration Network:

“Most reports on residual waste treatment capacity are commissioned by companies with a financial stake in investment in new waste incineration capacity, whereas Eunomia’s reports are more independent.

“Eunomia’s latest report confirms that we will soon have more incineration capacity than residual waste. However, this understates the problem because much of what is currently described as ‘residual waste’ can actually be recycled or composted.

“We already have more incineration capacity than we will have genuinely residual waste to burn, and so have already reached ‘overcapacity’ in the UK. We need to be recycling our waste, not wasting millions of pounds building yet more incinerators that will be redundant in a Circular Economy.”

The UK is currently working towards a 50% recycling target for household waste by 2020, as part of the Waste Framework Directive.

In addition, the UK is taking part in the EU’s Circular Economy Package negotiations which could raise municipal recycling targets further to 70%.

These could be completed before Britain is set to leave the European Union, though the impact of Brexit on these targets is as of yet not fully understood.

Nonetheless, what the report suggests is clear is that building more incinerators could prevent future recycling targets from being met.

Since 2009/10, the report suggests that effective treatment capacity has more than doubled from 6.3 million tonnes to 13.5 million tonnes. Additionally, total committed residual waste treatment capacity is suggested to also have doubled – from 10,300 kpta in 2011 to 21,400 kpta in 2017.

However, over the same time period, the quantity of residual waste suitable for treatment has fallen from an estimated 29.9 million tpa to 26 million tpa.

What this means is that more incinerators are set to be built despite falling waste quantities.

Waste is said to be falling partly due to waste-reduction initiatives from commercials. However, a large contributing factor is increased recycling rates.

Thus, overall, the report strongly suggests that incinerators are a barrier to maximising recycling rates.

Image rights: Fin Fahey @ Flickr

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