Menu Close

Wales waste plan criticised

According to veteran environmental campaigner and UKWIN Steering Group member Dr. Max Wallis:

The [Welsh] Minister’s aspirations “Towards Zero Waste” have turned into the opposite.

The talk of “zero waste to landfill” conceals increasing waste associated with incineration. The claim in the 14 May 2010 Decision Statement that there would be “no change in direction; but [that] ambitions have been stretched” is accused of being “an exercise in spin”.

In fact, the plan goes slow on recycling. Some regions (e.g. Flanders) and municipalities have already reached the 70% recycling level, and the Welsh Assembly Government’s (WAG’s) consultants showed that 80-90% recycling is practicable [1]. The new plan appears to put off achieving such levels for 15 yrs (to 2025).

The Minister excuses this as a matter of ‘deliver-ability’ [2], “code for opposition by local authorities”.

WAG downgraded the 70% recycling target to 63% (on international definitions) by making out that incinerator ash should be ‘recycled’ into building material – a concession to the industry lobby, which England has so far rejected.

Dr. Wallis notes that:

It is untrue to say there’s no policy change from Wise About Waste – that strategy calls for minimising disposal to landfill and incineration. This new and diluted plan says reduce landfill to 5% and expand incineration up to a level of 30%. It is a matter of fact that the draft was described as “a complete revision of Wise About Waste, The National Waste Strategy for Wales 2002” and that it tries to reverse its success in turning to recycling.

We know that mechanical and bio treatments of non-separated wastes enhance recycling, produce stabilised soil material that can often be used for land remediation and forestry, and otherwise is suitable to landfill without the gas and leachate problems. Such waste disposal sequesters carbon and performs better in climate impacts than incineration, as studies for the GLA and the Irish government show.

Yet this plan tries to shut off this cheapest option – chosen in Ireland – by imposing an irrational 5% limit on landfilling [3].

WAG is forcing Council taxpayers in Wales to fund a highly expensive plan. The Scottish Government has admitted the high expense of a similar plan for Scotland. Limiting the recycling target to 70% (really 63%) serves to ring-fence feedstock to fuel incinerators. The promise of £9 million per annum subsidy to Prosiect Gwyrdd was made apparently because they saw it as ‘much needed energy from waste’ (27 January 2009 Press Release). The English government did promote incinerators with generous PFI allocations, but those are vanishing in the credit crunch. Cost is a good reason for challenging WAG’s drive to incineration, in the coming period of austerity.

Incineration produces high carbon emissions, but this strategy has lost focus on carbon in waste policy. It is wrong to assume climate impacts are captured in the WRATE assessments and ignore incinerator emissions as ‘industry’, UK WIN points out [4]. A proper, internationally-valid carbon footprint is needed, that’s can be applied to Welsh towns and cities and reported annually, not the vague ecological footprint calculated for the whole of Wales.

As a UKWIN Steering Group member I am highly critical of any plan that ignores the waste-to-gas option, when the National (Gas) Grid wants biogas to replace shrinking North Sea gas in the domestic mains and has warned against signing away this resource in long-term waste contracts. The promise of the new Westminster coalition for a big expansion of anaerobic digestion has caught WAG napping.

Let’s see the National Assembly calling in this unsound plan [5], to check its fundamental flaws before more any further subsidies to incineration are committed.


[1] FOE Cymru responded on the basis of the consultants’ report (Eunomia Consulting) that recycling targets of 70% by 2015 and 80% by 2020 are very feasible, while raising recycling is the best way of reducing greenhouse gases. Friends of the Earth Cymru, Response to “Towards Zero Waste – One Wales: One Planet” (July 2009).

[2] WAG claims that “a minimum level of 70 per cent recycling would be the most cost effective and deliverable level” (14th May 2010 Decision Statement), but ‘deliverable’ means the dodgy deal with fractious Local Authorities in December 2008. Technologies are changing fast and WAG have no basis for saying 80% recycling would not be cost effective.

[3] Sterecycle planning to establish in Cardiff wanted to dispose of their output ‘fibre’ to land or landfill, as they do in Yorkshire. However, WAG told them no – they had to produce a fuel for incineration. So they included incineration in their Cardiff proposal.

[4] See UKWIN’s response to “Consultation on a new Waste Strategy for Wales”

[5] Unsound: a) assumes incinerator ash is re-usable, yet 50% is unused in England and there is pressure to declare it hazardous waste, as several countries do already. b) they assess options on the assumption of high energy efficiency for CHP incinerators (year-round demand from industrial users) yet this combination is not delivered anywhere in the UK and WAG produced no study to show it could be.

One thought on “Wales waste plan criticised

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.