Incinerator ash classification ‘under review’

The UK government is reviewing whether to count incinerator bottom ash (IBA) usage toward the nation’s overall recycling performance and has asked the European Commission for a ruling.

Some material taken from Incinerator Bottom Ash can be used in construction processes

Defra is coming under increasing pressure from local authorities as well as pressure from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) to change its stance on the classification of IBA. With the UK still needing about 7% more recycling to hit the 2020 50% recycling target, inclusion of IBA recycling could help close the gap.

Some material taken from Incinerator Bottom Ash can be used in construction processes
Some material taken from Incinerator Bottom Ash can be used in construction processes

The reuse of IBA in aggregates represents a significant reusage of the residual waste which goes into an incinerator. Aggregates firm Ballast Phoenix explains that after metals have been removed from the ash, by producing an aggregate, the company “effectively recycles about 20% by mass of the original tonnage of municipal solid waste”.

letsrecycle.com can reveal that prior to the General Election, the then DCLG minister Kris Hopkins wrote to his colleagues in Defra requesting a review of the classification of IBA as ‘waste’.


Commenting on the current stance on IBA a government spokesperson said this week: “We keep which materials are classified as ‘recycled’ under review and await the outcome of EU discussions on the Circular Economy package.”

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The European Commission’s Circular Economy package, which is due to be unveiled on December 2, is expected to look at measures to bring definitions of waste more closely in line across the European Union.

The package is to include proposals to update existing EU laws covering waste management and recycling, including the Waste Framework and Landfill Directives. Organisations including the Confederation of European Waste to Energy Plants (CEWEP) have called for the package to include steps to classify incinerator ash as ‘recycled’ where it is diverted into suitable applications.


In its response to the EU Commission’s Circular Economy consultation, which was published yesterday (November 11), Defra asked for clarity on whether IBA can be classed as recycling – as part of the effort to promote unified definitions of recycling across Europe.

Metals extracted from IBA can also be recycled
Metals extracted from IBA can also be recycled

Some of the EU’s top performing Member States on recycling including Austria and Germany are already counting material recovered from IBA towards recycling rates.

The Welsh Government has gone halfway towards counting the use of IBA towards recycling. While it is not allowed to be counted in meeting the 50% EU recycling target, it does count towards meeting higher Welsh Government-imposed local authority recycling targets.

Welsh Government spokesperson noted: “In Wales, incinerator bottom ash counts towards our local authority recycling targets provided that the ash meets the criteria set out in the Waste (Wales) Measure 2010 and subordinate legislation.”

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