MPs debated the future need for energy from waste plants in England in Parliament yesterday, with one member calling for anti-incineration campaigner Shlomo Dowen to be recommended for a peerage.
The debate yesterday was secured by Labour MP for Keighley, John Grogan, who called for a moratorium on new energy from waste plants, as well as the introduction of an incineration tax – an issue that was also raised with Prime Minister Theresa May in the House of Commons today [see full text below].
This comes as the Environment Agency considers a permit application for an EfW in Mr Grogan’s Keighley constituency – which he publicly opposes – and included contributions from other MPs opposed to EfW developments.
But others including Defra’s minister with responsibility for resources and waste, Therese Coffey, defended the use of EfW as an alternative to landfill.
Opening the debate, Mr Grogan praised the work of the UK Without Incineration Network, which he says “is to be commended on the quality of the information it provides” on current and planned EfW plants.
He quipped that the group’s founder, Mr Dowen, would be the “first person I will recommend for a peerage” if elected to government.
Commenting on the debate, and Mr Grogan’s comments to letsrecycle.com today, Mr Dowen said: “It was pleasing to be name-checked, and it is satisfying to see high level, cross-party scepticism and I think the message was clear that the Environment Agency needs to be more robust with incinerators. It was a good, but short debate, and I think the appetite is definitely there for a longer one in the future.”
Participants in yesterday’s debate included the Conservative MP for Witham, Priti Patel, who is campaigning against the proposed EfW plant at Rivenhall in Essex.
On permitting for new EfW facilities Ms Patel claimed that the process ‘lacks transparency’ for the public, who may be opposed to developments in their locality.
She said: “When incinerator operators apply for licences from the Environment Agency, a lot of bureaucratic and complicated paperwork goes with that that prevents local residents from scrutinising some of these applications.”
However, the Labour MP for Huddersfield Barry Sheerman argued that EfW plants do have a role to play in the UK.
“He [Mr Grogan] should be very cautious about calling it ‘incineration’. Energy from waste is at its best…when, for most of the town or city, it not only feeds into the electricity supply, but is a large contributor to it.”
Mr Sheerman continued: “If the heat is retained and heats the whole of the city/town centre, it is a very valuable part of the balance that we need. We can never recycle everything, and if we do not have that balance between good quality energy from waste, recycling and minimising throwing stuff in holes in the ground, we are lost. I would love that sort of facility in my constituency.”
Mr Grogan argued that with the UK committed to a recycling target of 65% by 2035, current capacity is likely to be sufficient for future EfW needs. He added: “The way I would help local authorities to recycle more would be to tax incinerators, just as landfill is taxed, to give them the money to increase recycling rates. That is being considered by the Treasury at the moment.”
In her response, Dr Coffey highlighted the rise in recycling rates over the last 15 years and reduction in landfilled waste, and the need for alternative treatment options for waste that can not be recycled. However, she concurred that future recycling goals ‘may reduce the future level of residual waste treatment required’.
“Tax policy is generally a matter for the Treasury. Although energy from waste can play an important role in reducing the amount of waste going to landfill, in the long term we want to maximise the amount of waste used for recycling.”Therese Coffey
She said: “Energy from waste or incineration with energy recovery should not compete with greater waste prevention, reuse or recycling. England currently has enough capacity to treat around 36% of residual municipal waste, and the projected increase in recycling thanks to our resources and waste strategy measures will reduce the future level of residual waste treatment infrastructure that is required. However, energy from waste will continue to have an important role in diverting waste from landfill.”
On the issue of an incineration tax, Dr Coffey added: “Tax policy is generally a matter for the Treasury. Although energy from waste can play an important role in reducing the amount of waste going to landfill, in the long term we want to maximise the amount of waste used for recycling.”
Energy from waste plants were raised in Parliament again today, with the Prime Minister Theresa May commenting in response to a question put to her by the MP for South West Wiltshire, Andrew Murrison, that the government would consider an incineration tax if recycling targets are not met.
“The issue of incineration I understand is a crucial one, particularly for people in certain local areas,” the Prime Minister said.
She added: “We do want to maximise the waste sent for recycling rather than to incineration and landfill, but waste incineration plants play and continue to play a important role in reducing the rubbish send to landfill, and we do welcome work to drive down waste to landfill further.
“If wider policies don’t deliver our waste ambitions in the future, including higher recycling rates, we will consider the introduction of a tax on the incineration of waste, which will run in conjunction with the landfill tax and take into account the possible impact on local authorities.”
You can see the clip on Parliament TV below.