On 9th April 2019 Members of Parliament (MPs) at the House of Commons considered the regulation of the incineration of waste. The debate was secured by John Grogan MP (Keighley, Labour), who made a range of points, including that:

  • “…there is a case for a moratorium on incineration. We have quite enough incinerators to deal with residual waste at the moment.”
  • “…the Environment Agency should be more robust in its approach in enforcing the waste hierarchy.”
  • “…the Treasury should continue to look…at whether a tax on incineration should mirror the landfill tax.”
Video of the debate in Westminster Hall

Pre-debate comments from Sandy Martin

The Westminster Hall debate comes a few days after Labour’s Shadow Waste and Recycling Minister Sandy Martin MP (Ipswich) praised John Grogan for asking the Secretary of State Michael Gove about the impact of incineration overcapacity on recycling.

Video of Michael Gove responding to John Grogan’s point about increases in incineration capacity coming at the expense of recycling (28th March 2019)

Quotes from the Westminster Debate (and MPs tweeting about the debate)

The full transcript is available from:

John Grogan (Keighley, Lab)

  • “There is an organisation called the UK Without Incineration Network that is to be commended on the quality of the information it provides”
  • “Many residents feel that the Environment Agency’s job seems to be to try and do everything possible to nod through the application rather than rigorously interrogate it…the Environment Agency has responsibilities under the Waste Regulations (England and Wales) 2011, passed by the coalition, to enforce the waste hierarchy, which puts reuse and recycling at the top. It fails to do this.”
  • “…However one defines incineration, it is true that the more of it there is in a local authority, the less recycling there is.”
  • “I do not think that the Environmental Agency has done nearly enough to enforce that waste hierarchy, to which all parties are committed.”
  • “Incinerators actually emit more CO2 per megawatt-hour generated than any other fossil fuel source, including coal.”
  • “Only one independent analysis [of incineration capacity] is widely respected: Eunomia’s…[Eunomia] is an environmental consultant with expertise in this area that has issued 12 reports, the last of which was published in July 2017. The analysis clearly demonstrates that operational incineration capacity has grown rapidly, from 6.3 million tonnes in 2009-10, to 13.5 million tonnes in 2017. Additional capacity is assessed to be 4.8 million tonnes.”
  • “…[A long-term incinerator contract] creates a perverse incentive for local authorities which, on the one hand, have a duty to recycle, but on the other must fulfil a contract that they have entered into…We are committed to a recycling rate of 55% by 2025, 60% by 2030, and 65% by 2035. Eunomia and, indeed, the Government have accepted that we will have enough incineration capacity to meet the residual waste, given those recycling targets. Tom Murray, the DEFRA deputy head of resources and waste policy, said this year: ‘Our evidence is suggesting that, when we meet recycling targets…recycling will leave no capacity gap’ with respect to incineration.”
  • “The way I would help local authorities to recycle more would be to tax incinerators, just as landfill is taxed, to give them the money to increase recycling rates. That is being considered by the Treasury at the moment. The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury said recently that the Treasury ‘would be willing to consider a future incineration tax once further infrastructure has been put in place to reduce…the amount of plastics that are incinerated, further improving the environment and reducing the amount of throwaway single-use plastics.'”
  • “…Instead of just flirting with the idea of taxation [of incineration] it is now time to act on it.”

Priti Patel MP (Witham, Conservative)

“…When incinerator operators apply for licences from the Environment Agency, a lot of bureaucratic and complicated paperwork goes with that that prevents local residents from scrutinising some of these applications…more needs to be done to unpick that information to make it more accountable and transparent for local residents…”

Carolyn Harris MP (Swansea East, Labour)

“In my constituency of Swansea East, in the very pleasant community of Llansamlet, Biffa is currently attempting to get permission to build one of those incinerators and 2,500 members of the local community have come together to object…placing such a facility in the middle of a community is detrimental to its health, schools and homes and that we should be looking at other ways of disposing of our waste…”

Dr Andrew Murrison MP (South West Wiltshire, Conservative)

“…I agree with his [John Grogan MP’s] propositions, particularly on the waste hierarchy and the likelihood that incinerators will reduce both the amount that we recycle and our attempts to reduce waste in the first place…there is a risk, through so-called gasification, that we may have incineration by another means…applications [for incinerators, including gasification plants] should be considered—if they are to be considered at all—only if they are away from centres of population, on the precautionary principle…”

Hugh Gaffney MP (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill, Labour)

“…Will anyone listen to the communities who actually have to live with the incinerators?”

Steve Brine MP (Winchester, Conservative)

 “…my constituents are very worried about proposals for a new incinerator the size of Battersea power station in the Hampshire downs countryside, which is a rural location, not an urban one…Given that incineration is not recycling and the proposals would lead to countless lorry movements just to feed the machine…it would be good to hear from the Minister about where the Government see incineration in the hierarchy of waste management in England today…”

Paul Girvan MP (South Antrim, DUP)

“I appreciate that many councils and local authorities are entering contracts relating to providers of incineration. In doing so, they are diverting waste that should be recycled, because of those contractual agreements. That is creating a big problem.”

Bim Afolami MP (Hitchin and Harpenden, Conservative)

“On the point about incinerator tax, does the hon. Gentleman agree that in situations where, as in my constituency, there is a proposal for a major incinerator yards outside the constituency boundary, and local people feel they have no ownership to enable them to affect the outcome, whether through their MP or councillors, it is particularly important that any tax that might come in should be shared broadly with neighbouring communities, and not just in the council area where the incinerator is?”

Sharon Hodgson MP (Washington and Sunderland West, Labour)

“The Minister will be aware that there has been an application for a gasification plant in my constituency. The key bone of contention is that no decision was made on what form of technology would be used before the application was put in. Does she agree that in order for people to campaign and scrutinise such applications properly, those making them should say upfront what form of technology they will use?” To which the Minister responded: “That is an important consideration. My hon. Friend the Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison) mentioned pyrolysis or gasification. Different technologies will have different environmental impacts…”

Quotes from Government response by Dr Thérèse Coffey MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

  • “Energy from waste or incineration with energy recovery should not compete with greater waste prevention, reuse or recycling. England currently has enough [incineration] capacity to treat around 36% of residual municipal waste, and the projected increase in recycling thanks to our resources and waste strategy measures will reduce the future level of residual waste treatment infrastructure that is required…”
  • “…it is important that we recognise that one of the things we are doing in the resources and waste strategy is effectively removing this condition, which I believe is where the hon. Member for Keighley has a problem, of TEEP—technically, environmentally and economically practicable—exemptions, which allow exemptions based on technical, economic and environmental differences. Under the proposals that we have put out in the consultation, which we hope to include in the Environment Bill in the next Session of Parliament, there is a specific removal of that TEEP exemption on what councils will be required to collect for recycling. It will determine not how they collect it but what they collect. Therefore, that situation will no longer arise; if the responses to the consultation agree with what the Government believe is the right policy to take forward, councils will no longer have the ability to simply say, ‘It is not economically viable for us to do this anymore.’ That is quite a revolution in the resource and waste strategy…”

Comment from UKWIN

It was great to see so many MPs from across the political spectrum representing the concerns of their constituents regarding waste incineration, and we thank all of the MPs who attended and everyone who wrote to their MP asking for them to attend. It is a testament to the importance of the issue that so many MPs attended at short notice, and we are aware of many who would have been there had it not been for their other commitments.

There was not time for everyone who was present to speak, and as it was a backbench debate some from the Labour front bench, such as Sandy Martin MP and Holly Lynch MP, were there to listen. Additionally, Caroline Nokes MP and Conservative front bencher was also in attendance throughout (as mentioned by Steve Brine MP) but was similarly only able to listen. We hope that this half-hour debate is followed up by many more discussions on waste incineration.

This is not the first time that MPs have criticised incineration and called for a moratorium on new incineration capacity, the introduction of an incineration tax, and/or better enforcement of the waste hierarchy. For example, Early Day Motion 581 of session 2017-19 which called for a moratorium on new waste incineration capacity and in February 2019 the Environmental Audit Committee criticised the incineration of unsold clothing.

In their report ‘Fixing fashion: clothing consumption and sustainability’ the Environmental Audit Committee today called on the Government to prevent the incineration and landfill of unsold clothing stock. Continue reading »

A new journal article examines the poor thermal efficiency and technical challenges associated with the pyrolysis of mixed waste and, by extension, other ‘advanced thermal treatment’ technologies such as gasification. The article written by Andrew Neil Rollinson (University of Loughborough) and Jumoke Mojisola Oladejo (University of Nottingham) is entitled “‘Patented blunderings’, efficiency awareness, and self-sustainability claims in the pyrolysis energy from waste sector”. It is schedule to be published by Elsevier in Volume 141 of the journal ‘Resources, Conservation and Recycling’ in February 2019 but is available for free from today until the 23rd of December 2018 from https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1X-E33HVLKaZLr. Continue reading »

The Treasury’s October 2018 Budget Report states that: “…the government wants to maximise the amount of waste sent to recycling instead of incineration and landfill. Should wider policies not deliver the government’s waste ambitions in the future, it will consider the introduction of a tax on the incineration of waste, in conjunction with landfill tax, taking account of the possible impacts on local authorities.”

Continue reading »

The United Kingdom Without Incineration Network (UKWIN) has today (Monday 22nd October 2018) launched a report that looks into the climate change impacts of waste incineration in the UK. Continue reading »

We now know that the Chancellor’s next budget statement is due to take place on Monday 29th October 2018. We also know that serious consideration is being given to the inclusion of a tax on waste incineration as part of the forthcoming budget. An incineration tax might be only a month away! Continue reading »

In their summary of responses to the ‘Tackling the plastic problem’ call for evidence, the Government has announced that they are considering an incineration tax to be announced at the forthcoming budget in the Autumn. Continue reading »

New UKWIN report launched 17th July 2018 at the House of Lords. The Report, ‘Waste Incineration and Particulate Pollution: A Failure of Governance’ launched in the House of Lords with cross-party support from John Grogan MP (Labour), Philip Davies MP (Conservative), and Lord Tyler (Liberal Democrat Peer).

The documents are available in electronic format from http://ukwin.org.uk/bin/ as follows:

The report reveals:

  • Incinerators exceed pollution reporting thresholds for particulates, but do due to a loophole the public is not informed of particulate emissions;
  • Levels of emissions of harmful particulate matter and NOx and associated costs to society; and
  • A lack of regulation, with official guidance ignored.

The report shows that particulate matter released by English incinerators in 2017 is equivalent to particulate matter emitted by more than a quarter of a million 40-tonne lorries travelling 75,000 miles a year, and the NOx emissions released by English incinerators in 2017 equate to around 80,000 lorries travelling 75,000 miles a year.

The report calls for:

  • The development and implementation of accurate systems to measure particulate matter released by incinerators, accompanied by proper enforcement;
  • Stricter control of PM1 emissions;
  • The introduction of an incineration tax; and
  • A moratorium on new waste incineration capacity.

What has been said about the report:
Shlomo Dowen, National Coordinator of the UK Without Incineration Network, said: “For decades incinerators in England have been emitting significant quantities of pollution and greenhouse gasses. There is a substantial cost to society associated with these harmful emissions. This cost should be met by incinerator operators in line with the ‘polluter pays’ principle. Operators should also be required to be more transparent about their emissions and to do more to monitor and control the pollution they cause.”

John Grogan MP said: “The case for a tax on waste Incineration to mirror the Landfill Tax and for a moratorium on new incinerators is now very strong.”

Philip Davies MP said: “Incinerators are being foisted on local communities right across the country and yet the damage that they cause to the local environment is not fully known. There really needs to be a suspension on new incinerators until there is better information available.”

Lord Tyler said: “Clean air is vital to health but the Government seems unconcerned about adequately monitoring the emissions from incinerators and has allowed this monitoring loop hole to go unchecked. We must tighten up monitoring procedures and fully investigate the impact before allowing any further incinerators to be built.

Photograph showing some of the attendees at the launch at the House of Lords on 17th July 2018

UKWIN’s new report will be launched at the House of Lords from 10:30am on Tuesday 17th July 2018!

For a copy of Waste Incineration and Particulate Pollution: ‘A Failure of Governance’ see: http://ukwin.org.uk/bin/ from 10:30am on Tuesday.

The Government’s consultation ‘Tackling the plastic problem: Using the tax system or charges to address single-use plastic waste’ closed yesterday. Commenting on the consultation the exchequer secretary Robert Jenrick has been quoted in The Times as stating that: “A number of submissions have advocated a tax on the incineration of waste. There is an argument for changing the incentives to discourage putting further waste to incineration. We would like to see less plastic incinerated, sent to landfill or exported and more recycled.”

Reacting to this, Shlomo Dowen, the National Coordinator of the United Kingdom Without Incineration Network (UKWIN), said: “It is a scandal that for so many years the public has effectively been subsiding the incineration of recyclable and avoidable plastics. The introduction of a tax on the incineration of plastic is long overdue. Such a tax would mean the price of incineration would more closely reflect the climate cost to society of burning these fossil fuels. UKWIN welcomes the news that the Government is considering such a tax which would send a clear signal that we should be shifting investment away from incineration towards reduction, reuse and recycling.”

UKWIN views an incineration tax as a sensible measure to encourage the investment in collection, sorting, education and processing needed to boost recycling, and to discourage the incineration of materials that would be recycled if the appropriate infrastructure were in place.

A new study, published in the Journal of Loss Prevention in the Process Industries, raises serious concerns about the safety of treating mixed waste via gasification.

The academic paper, written by gasification expert Dr. Andrew N. Rollinson, is entitled ‘Fire, explosion and chemical toxicity hazards of gasification energy from waste’. The article highlights the hazards of gasification and discusses relevant historic incidents and underappreciated engineering fundamentals that indicate that gasification of mixed waste can be significantly more risky than conventional incineration.

Gasification hazards identified by Dr. Rollinson include: flammable, toxic, and corrosive gas mixtures; the auto-ignition of stored feedstocks; multiple explosive atmospheres due to both over-pressure and under-pressure; and heightened risk at times of start-up, shut-down or during testing.

The paper identifies how these risks are made worse by a widespread lack of stakeholder understanding, a desire to operate at high outputs, and a reluctance to learn lessons from decades of unsuccessful attempts to operate gasification on a mixed waste feedstock.

The study concludes that: “If the waste industry is to avoid further process losses, it must learn from the lessons of gasification history and the lessons of risk assessment developed through major chemical process accidents of the past. At present however, risk is being aggravated by a reluctance to disclose or address these failures, preferences for novelty, a lack of stakeholder understanding, and a desire to operate beyond technological capabilities”.

Shlomo Dowen, National Coordinator of the UK Without Incineration Network (UKWIN), commented on the implications of this research, stating: “This is a valuable contribution to the available literature that should be required reading for anyone interested in, or indeed making decisions about, waste gasification technologies. From UKWIN’s perspective, the risks associated with gasification are not worth taking because gasification and other forms of incineration destroy valuable resources that should be re-used or recycled as part of our move towards a more sustainable and circular economy”.

The paper is published in Volume 54 of the Journal of Loss Prevention in the Process Industries, July 2018 (doi.org/10.1016/j.jlp.2018.04.010) and is available electronically from https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1X0cq3O6UQP6UB or

Dr. Andrew Neil Rollinson PhD, MSc, BSc (Hons), AFHEA, MRSC is a research engineer at Loughborough University. For more information about Dr. Rollinson see his profile at: http://www.lboro.ac.uk/departments/abce/staff/andrew-neil-rollinson/

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