the-wasteline-waste+resource-management_Jul2014-coverA briefing paper produced by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has raised a number of concerns relating to incineration and recommended that “the Treasury should launch a consultation on how incineration can be reduced most effectively”, advising that: “The terms of reference should include an examination of the costs and benefits of introducing fiscal incentives to reduce incineration, introducing regulations to ban the incineration of specific materials, and doing nothing”.

According to UKWIN’s National Coordinator, Shlomo Dowen: “The IPPR briefing paper provides further support for UKWIN’s contention that incineration has no place in a closed-loop, circular economy. We need Government action to help councils and businesses produce less, recycle more, and move away from incineration”.

The document, entitled The Waste Line: Redfining ‘waste’ and improving resource management policy, was written by the IPPR’s Mark Rowney. The executive summary states:

  • “Britain needs to radically rethink the way it manages its resources…Our approach to resources should be circular: one in which non-biological resources like metals are reused again and again, while biological resources such as food are reused as fully as possible before being returned to the Earth’s ecosystem – for example, by composting the material rather than burning it…” (Page 1)
  • “We still send large amounts of secondary materials to landfill and incineration, which is a waste of valuable resources and has negative environmental consequences. Getting policy right in this area will require a full re-evaluation of the basic philosophy behind ‘waste’, so that secondary materials are no longer regarded as a burden, but rather are seen as crucial to the UK’s economic development…The government must…take initial steps to encourage behaviour change, and end inefficient and polluting treatments of secondary materials.” (Page 2)
  • “Policy recommendations: …policy should start to consider some incineration as analogous to landfill. Fears that it would be impossible to encourage recycling have proven unfounded. Therefore, the Treasury should launch a consultation to find the most effective means of reducing incineration which imposes the lowest burden on business and local authorities. Its terms of reference should include an examination of the costs and benefits of introducing a fiscal incentive to reduce incineration, of introducing regulations to ban specific materials to incineration, and of doing nothing.” (Page 3)

According to Section 1 (“A new approach to materials”):

  • “…Non-biological resources such as metals should be reused continuously. Biological resources such as food should be utilised as fully as possible before being returned to the biosphere…” (Page 6, Helping businesses to cut resource costs and create jobs)
  • “…Food ‘waste’ that is genuinely unavoidable should be have its full economic value extracted through composting, recycling into other products or anaerobic digestion.” (Page 8, Reducing the financial costs of ‘waste’)
  • “Diverting just 615,000 tonnes of easily reusable material away from landfill or incineration would save the taxpayer more than £60 million per year in avoided disposal costs, and generate £375 million in revenue from resold goods, together netting £435 million of additional value to the economy. This ‘easily reusable’ material consists solely of textiles, waste electrical and electronic equipment and furniture, and represents only a tripling of the small amount of material that is currently reused in the UK (LGA 2014).” (Page 9,  Reducing the financial costs of ‘waste’)

According to Section 2 (“Resource management and ‘waste’ policy”)

  • “…In England, the increase in energy generated by incineration is concerning, and may mean that incineration has increased at the expense of the potential economic and environmental benefits of increased recycling. We still have a long way to go before we create a circular economy.” (Page 17)
  • “There are two drawbacks to incineration. First, it has a relatively severe impact on the environment. It is predicted that incineration plants that generate only electricity emit 78 per cent more CO2 per kilowatt-hour than a gas power station, and only 5 per cent less than a coal power station (Warhurst and Watson 2006). By contrast, Friends of the Earth has shown that AD reduces carbon emissions by offsetting the need for power stations that use fossil fuels. In fact, they concluded that AD can give higher net carbon savings than composting (FoE 2007). The last time HM Revenue and Customs (or rather its forerunner, HM Customs and Excise) compared the external costs of landfill with those of incineration, they found that in their central case, the external costs of landfilling municipal solid ‘waste’ were £10 per tonne, whereas the incineration (with energy recovery) of that ‘waste’ had external costs of £13–£14 per tonne (HMCE 2004)…In the case of food, which is not suitable for reuse, our interviewees generally felt that AD was the best use of discarded food, as it produced both energy and digestate (which is similar in function to compost).” (Pages 17 and 18, Incineration versus anaerobic digestion)
  • “Scotland and Wales are much closer to adopting this mindset at the government level than England, where progress on secondary materials policy has ceased, and many councils prefer incineration to recycling or reuse. Relying on WRAP and local authorities to promote voluntary and community-based action on ‘waste’ is not going to contribute to the development of a circular economy. The work of Defra and BIS to date on developing resource management policy is welcome, but inadequate.” (Page 18, Resource Management and ‘Waste’ Policy Conclusions)
  • “Real progress in every nation would see policy towards secondary materials subsumed into a fully developed resource-management policy. To enable this to become a reality, we have identified three strategic goals that need to be addressed in order to expand ‘waste’ policy into a resource-management policy…[Goal 3:] An end to the inefficient and polluting treatment of secondary materials – The UK continues to send large amounts of secondary materials to landfill, and is incinerating an increasing amount of them. Not only is this polluting, but it is a waste of resources that could be more efficiently used. It must be minimised, so that only secondary materials that cannot be treated in any other way are landfilled or incinerated.”  (Page 18, Resource Management and ‘Waste’ Policy Conclusions)

In relation to the policy recommendation to consult on encouraging food businesses to separate
discarded food from other materials, it is stated that:

  • “…not all food ‘waste’ can be consumed (bones and banana skins, for example), so there will always be a need for food ‘waste’ collection. Rather than sending it to landfill or for incineration, both of which are environmentally damaging, these should be sent for anaerobic digestion, composted…However, interviewees told IPPR that sourcing fuel is a major problem for the anaerobic digestion industry.” (Page 21)
  • “…To address excessive food ‘waste’ from businesses that produce, prepare, distribute or sell food, Scotland is phasing in a requirement for these businesses to separate food ‘waste’ from other materials…Our interviewees were enthusiastic about this policy because it promised to reduce the contamination of other recyclables, and increase the visibility of food ‘waste’ to the producer. Visibility is a vital psychological tool to encourage ‘waste’ prevention.” (Page 21)
  • “…Defra should carry out a thorough cost-benefit analysis of adopting the Scottish system across England. If the results of that analysis prove favourable, then over the course of the next parliament Defra should launch a formal consultation to explore options for ensuring that English businesses that sell, distribute, prepare or produce food to take all reasonable steps to separate discarded food from other secondary materials, modelled on Scotland’s approach…” (Page 21)

In relation to the briefing paper’s recommendation on reducing incineration, it is stated that:

  • “Chapter 2 showed that incineration is not an environmentally friendly method of electricity generation. Unfortunately, mixed municipal ‘waste’ falls outside the EU’s emissions trading scheme, so a price is not placed on emissions from that sector. Furthermore, incinerator fuel is generally unsorted, and so includes material from which a higher economic value can be realised through other forms of secondary material management. Incineration adds little to securing the nation’s resource security.
  • A recent study of incineration taxes across Europe found ‘a broad overall trend that higher incineration charges are generally associated with higher percentages of municipal waste being recycled and composted… The chain of causality may be indirect – incineration facilities tend to be more prevalent where landfill is either restricted or banned, or where the costs of landfill are made high through the deployment of taxes… The higher the avoided costs of residual waste disposal or treatment become, the stronger the incentive for waste prevention and recycling.’ [Watkins et al 2012]
  • Incineration, with or without energy generation, should be considered in the same bracket as landfill. Fiscal incentives to reduce incineration would provide a clear signal that neither it (nor landfill) are economically or socially acceptable. However, these would place a significant burden on businesses and local authorities, and are a blunt tool with which to reduce incineration. There may be a case for distinguishing between incineration that generates electricity only, and that which also generates heat. Other measures – such as amending planning regulations, removing tax benefits provided to incinerator operators, and banning the incineration of certain materials – may be more effective at reducing incineration.
  • Therefore, the Treasury should launch a consultation on how incineration can be reduced most effectively, and in a way which causes the lowest possible burden on business and local authorities. The terms of reference should include an examination of the costs and benefits of introducing fiscal incentives to reduce incineration, introducing regulations to ban the incineration of specific materials, and doing nothing.” (Page 22)

The briefing paper concludes as follows:

  • “Resources are increasingly scarce, expensive and volatile. Environmentalists, business groups and other stakeholders are calling for more concerted action to limit waste, encourage resource management and create a circular economy.In the past, policy across the UK has succeeded in delivering cultural change, reducing the use of landfill and promoting greater recycling. We can therefore be optimistic about the ability of policy to succeed again – this time, in encouraging the cultural change necessary to bring about the circular economy, and all of its benefits. The challenge now is to encourage reuse as well as recycling, to drive down incineration and landfill, and ultimately ensure that ‘waste’ comes to be seen as a resource with an economic value, rather than as something to be disposed of.” (Page 23)

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