Burning waste ‘could heat half a million UK homes and support net zero goal’

16th July 2020 | Recycling

The UK could generate enough low carbon heat to support more than half a million homes by 2030 by burning waste, according to a new report. Think tank Policy Connect says diverting the nation’s 27.5 million tonnes – or 80% – of non-recyclable waste for green heat could also help avoid four million tonnes of carbon emissions over the next decade alone – equivalent to the emissions from more than nine million barrels of oil.

Its report, backed by 13 cross-part MPs, finds widespread deployment of energy-from-waste (EfW) plants across the UK is needed to deliver a coherent circular and sustainable waste policy that heats and powers homes and avoid the expensive shipping of waste abroad. It calls for a new “Scandinavian” policy approach, which includes halting the shipping of non-recyclable waste abroad, minimising all UK waste going to landfill, implementing new policy that drives investment into EfW infrastructure and removing plastics from the residual waste stream.

Burning Waste

While the report recognises the waste management industry has reduced its own carbon emissions by 69% since 1990, it says the sector has untapped potential to help other sectors of the UK economy to decarbonise on the road to net zero, including transport, industry and domestic heating. The think tank suggests EfW infrastructure can be fitted with new technologies to capture carbon – like waste plants fitted with carbon capture and storage (CCS) in Oslo, Norway – harness heat for heat for homes equivalent to a UK city the size of Birmingham as well and create low carbon fuels for trucks and planes.

The MPs had stronger policy signals from government could unlock “billions of pounds” of private investment but “outdated” national policy and “a lack of co-ordination” between local authorities, planners and industry are hindering it.

In a foreword to the report, the MPs state, “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 out important recycling targets and investing in innovative recycling technology.”

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