A report from the cross-party group Policy Connect has concluded that energy from waste (EfW) is the “safest and cheapest” solution to the UK’s residual waste problem if plastics are removed.
The report stated that EfW is not the “perfect long-term solution”, but accompanied by a drive to increase heat use, remove plastics, and decarbonise EfW further, “it is the best available technology”.
The report, ‘No Time to Waste: resources, recovery and the road to net-zero’, was backed by 13 cross-party politicians and also calls for the government to release a policy statement outlining “the future role of EfW as the best available residual waste treatment”.
Policy Connect describes itself as “a cross-party think tank improving people’s lives by influencing policy.. We collaborate with Government and Parliament”. Released today 16 July, the report comes after an eight month “enquiry” into EfW facilities, and the future of them in the UK.
It finds that EfW is better for the economy and the environment than current solutions of overseas export for energy recovery or landfilling in the UK.
The report added that “widespread deployment of EfW plants across UK regions is needed to deliver a coherent circular and sustainable waste policy that heats and powers UK homes and avoids expensive shipping of waste abroad, and carbon intensive landfill.”
However, it has urged the government to support the development and integration of Carbon Capture and Storage technology into EfW facilities, in anticipation of a future carbon tax.
And, Defra should continue to drive up recycling rates and pursue a zero plastic residual waste stream, including supporting technology development with waste prevention at the heart of innovation.
A joint statement from the 13 cross-party politicians said: “The need for safe and effective removal of our waste has never been more important. As the UK embarks on our Build Back Better movement, we must no longer simply bury or export the problem.
“Instead, we should, as other European economies do, treat residual waste as a valuable resource to produce lower carbon heat and energy, alongside a focus on achieving our important recycling targets and investing in innovative recycling technology.
EfW is not the perfect long-term solution for residual waste, but accompanied by a drive to increase heat use and decarbonise EfW further, it is the best available technology, and is an essential part of the net-zero transition ahead of us.”
Environment Minister Rebecca Pow also spoke in favour of the report. She said: “Now more than ever, it is crucial we move from a ‘throw away’ society to one that always looks at waste as a valuable resource.
“We want to be a world leader in tackling this challenge, which is why we’re transforming our waste system to ensure products are built to last and easier to recycle or repair. We will consider the recommendations in this report as we drive forward our ambitious waste reforms and meet our net zero emissions goals.”
The report was accompanied by 10 recommendations, which include urging the industry to stop exporting waste abroad.
“Rather than paying other countries to recover energy from our waste and buying energy back, the UK should deal with our own waste and recover more of our energy and heat needs,” the report said.
Other suggestions include:
- Waste projections: Defra should produce a waste and resources roadmap, outlining the targeted and managed transition to a circular economy and net-zero ambitions.
- Recycling and waste prevention: Defra should continue to drive up recycling rates and pursue a zeroplastic residual waste stream, including supporting technology development with waste prevention at the heart of innovation
- Waste & public awareness: The Government should drive a national public education campaign around personal responsibility and waste management, and its links to climate change. This should engage authorities and encourage communication of the end-process of residents’ waste.
- A role for waste heat: BEIS’ upcoming Heat and Buildings Strategy should recognise a clear role for EfW heat to provide accessible low carbon heat, as a key early element on the road towards heat sector decarbonisation.
Executive director of the Environmental Services Association (ESA), Jacob Hayler, said: “As Policy Connect’s timely report concludes, energy recovery has an important role to play in the transition to a stronger, more sustainable, low-carbon economy and can help Britain Build Back Better in the aftermath of the Coronavirus Crisis.
“The report shows that EfW infrastructure provides the most cost-effective and lowest carbon solution for household and municipal waste as the UK transitions to decarbonised heat and power by 2050. Our sector will continue in our efforts to drive up recycling and to remove as much plastic from the residual waste stream as possible, but we must stop sending non-recyclable waste abroad and instead make better domestic use of this source of heat and power domestically.”
The report can be read here