With energy from waste facing criticism this week in claims that it is slowing recycling and that new plants are not needed, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has stepped into the debate.
Yesterday (16 July) the Green Party called for a moratorium on new plants and said the UK is on the verge of burning more than it recycles.
Today (17 July) campaign group UKWIN is releasing a package of information which it claims shows that incinerators are releasing harmful emissions. The group argues that incinerators exceed pollution reporting thresholds but the public are not being told and that incinerator pollution is costing “billions”.
Referencing coverage of the Green Party report in the Guardian, that incineration of waste is increasing and the household recycling rate has stalled, Defra said: “This is not true – the household recycling rate continues to increase, and more waste is being recycled than incinerated.”
It added: “Although the amount of waste that is incinerated has gone up, this is waste which would have previously gone to landfill, not waste that would have been recycled, meaning a far greater proportion of our waste is now managed either through recycling or energy-from-waste incineration.”
What is clear however, from waste treatment data, is that with ongoing reductions in the landfilling of municipal waste, volumes of incineration will rise.
Commenting with regard to this point, a Defra spokesperson said: “We have made great progress in boosting household recycling rates, which have increased from 11% to over 45% between 2000 and 2016. More waste is being recycled than incinerated, and less waste is being sent to landfill.
“Our 25 year plan for the environment set out our commitment to leave the environment in a better state than we inherited it, and we’ll be setting out more detail on how we further increase our recycling rates in our forthcoming Resources and Waste Strategy.”
And, the Department noted that it “supports the waste hierarchy whereby prevention, re-use and recycling should always be prioritised. However, not everything can be recycled and recovering energy from waste is environmentally preferable to landfill.”
In terms of recycling policy among local authorities, the Department said: “Government sets national waste policy and it is for each local authority to set their priorities for reducing waste and increasing recycling at local level, taking into account local conditions and circumstances to make the best decisions for their local residents.”