The UK will be burning more waste than it recycles inside the next year, a report by the Green Party has suggested.
As a result of the findings, according to the Green Party, the government should immediately bring in a moratorium on the building of new incinerators, along with a charge for incineration.
But, critics of the report lead by the UK’s waste management industry, have said the study has “woefully missed the point”.
The Green Party report, which was uploaded onto digital library service ‘Scribd’ by the Guardian newspaper, claimed that in London, the West Midlands and in the North East, more waste is already incinerated than recycled.
According to the report, while national recycling rates have been flat lining at around 11 million tonnes (44%) in the last four years, the rate of incineration has more than doubled since 2012, rising from around 5 million to just over 10 million tonnes in 2017/18.
For the next financial year, ending March 2019, the report predicted that the amount of waste incinerated will rise to just over 12 million tonnes, while recycling levels will largely remain the same.
Green Party Baroness, Jenny Jones, said in her executive summary that she finds the report “shocking” and wants councillors to clamp down on incineration.
“I find it shocking that the UK is on the verge of burning more waste than it recycles. There are already three English regions where that happens already and on current trends it will be a national problem within a couple of years,” Baroness Jones explained.
She added: “There is logic to generating energy from the waste that we cannot recycle, or reuse, but it is meant to be the last resort option. What we have created instead is a market driven system of incinerators which constantly need to be fed. “
The report also uses Defra-sourced letsrecycle.com statistics to highlight that several councils have seen the amount of their waste being recycled reduced since the 2010/11 financial year, as outlined in the table below.
This includes Westminster, which fell from 25% in 2010/11 to 17% in the 2016/17 financial year, and Birmingham, which fell from 31% in 2010/11 to 25% in 2016/17.
The Green Party report pointed to a study by consultancy group Eunomia last year which said that the UK’ supply of treatment capacity will exceed the available quantity of residual waste in 2020/21, explaining that there are “more than enough incinerators” at the moment.
And, the Green Party report explained that there are “many more incinerators being planned, supported by lucrative local authority contracts, which will ensure that waste is burnt, rather than put to better use”.
The report concluded by issuing a list of recommendations, including introducing a weekly food waste collection “as a basic”, making the financial details of all incinerators public knowledge, find out when a council can get out of any existing incineration contract and to encourage innovation that finds new ways of dealing with waste.
‘Missed the point’
Commenting on the report, Libby Forrest, policy and parliamentary affairs officer, who has responsibility for energy from waste at the Environmental Services Association, says the report “woefully missed the point.”
“EfW competes with landfill as treatment option for our non-recyclable wastes. If we had supportive policy for recycling, then this would be the default option for recovering value from our resources,” Ms Forrest explained.
She continued: “EfW is a far better option for treating residual waste than landfill. Whilst more can and should be done to reduce waste in the first place and then boost recycling, EfW is a pragmatic solution to the reality of residual waste.
“Until products are made more recyclable materials and demand for recycled material increases, a significant portion of our waste will remain non-recyclable. Recovering energy from this waste at EfWs upholds the principles of the Circular Economy by putting it to further use for the benefit of the environment and the economy rather than burying it in the ground.”