Incinerating proposals incompatible with UK net-zero and recycling targets

20th July 2021 | Recycling

Government planning approval has already been obtained for the proposed plants, 17 of which are set to become operational by 2025. In the report, XR Zero Waste highlighted the incompatibilities between these proposals and the UK Government’s climate and recycling goals. If built, the 50 new plants would cause incineration CO2 emissions to triple, from 5.5 to 15 million tonnes.

As a result, total waste sector emissions would increase to 28 million tonnes by 2035, instead of dropping below 16 million tonnes, as required by the Climate Change Committee’s net-zero pathway for the sector. Environment Minister Rebecca Pow, however, recently claimed that the Government’s waste strategy is designed so that ‘ultimately, there will be less [waste] going to incineration’.

To enable the UK to reach its net-zero target, the Government would have to cut incineration emissions in half by 2035. This can only be achieved through the implementation of measures that both prevent incineration expansion and require the removal of most plastics from incineration waste streams, according to the report.

In particular, the report highlighted the dissonance between waste incineration expansion and UK recycling targets. With the 50 new incinerators operating at full capacity, only 34 per cent of the total waste generated in England would be available for recycling in 2035, not the 65 per cent mandated by UK law. Local authorities that sign incineration contracts, many of which cover 25 years, are legally obligated to keep incinerators running at capacity. In practice, this can result in recyclables being sent to incineration to avoid financial penalties.

According to XR Zero Waste’s analysis, the 50 new incinerators would be able to burn more than twice as much waste as the country would produce by 2035. This discrepancy, which the report set at 15 million tonnes, could hinder recycling progress or increase the likelihood of stranded incineration assets. The report also pointed out that incineration prevents green job growth, noting that reuse and repair alone generate 15 times more jobs than the waste disposal sector.

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