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.”
A significant quantity of what currently goes to waste incineration is readily recyclable. As noted in UKWIN’s recent report on the climate change impacts of incineration: “Composition analysis indicates that much of what is currently used as incinerator feedstock could be recycled or composted, and this would result in carbon savings and other environmental benefits. Thus, incinerating waste comes with a significant ‘opportunity cost’.”
Whilst UKWIN would like to see greater and more urgent action, there are measures in the pipeline to encourage increased recycling and increased recyclability. The Budget Report announced the Government’s intention to:
- “introduce a tax on the production and import of plastic packaging from April 2022. Subject to consultation, this tax will apply to plastic packaging which does not contain at least 30% recycled plastic, to transform financial incentives for manufacturers to produce more sustainable packaging”
- “reform the Packaging Producer Responsibility System, which will aim to increase producer responsibility for the costs of their packaging waste, including plastic. This system will provide an incentive for producers to design packaging that is easier to recycle and penalise the use of difficult to recycle packaging, such as black plastics”
If the Circular Economy package is fully implemented then measures would also include:
- Separate bio-waste collection, e.g. garden and food waste by 31 December 2023;
- Separate textile collections by 1 January 2025;
- Municipal recycling targets of at least 55% by 2025, 60% by 2030 and 65% by 2035
- Increasing targets for recycling of plastic, wood, ferrous metals, aluminium, glass, and paper and card
With all this in mind, alongside the forthcoming Resources and Waste Strategy, now is the time for councils and businesses to consider how they can minimise their long-term reliance on waste incineration and prevent significant quantities of recyclable and compostable material from going up in smoke, especially considering the fact that burning plastics results in the release of significant quantities of fossil CO2.
As noted in UKWIN’s recent climate change report, in 2017 the UK’s 42 incinerators released a combined total of nearly 11 million tonnes of CO2, around 5 million tonnes of which were from fossil sources such as plastic. The 5 million tonnes of fossil CO2 released by UK incinerators in 2017 resulted in an unpaid cost to society of around £325 million. Over the next 30 years the total cost to society of fossil CO2 released by UK’s current incinerators would equate to more than £25 billion pounds of harm arising from the release of around 205 million tonnes of fossil CO2.
Professor Ian Boyd, Chief Scientific Adviser at DEFRA, said in January 2018 that: “If there is one way of quickly extinguishing the value in a material, it is to stick it in an incinerator and burn it. It may give you energy out at the end of the day, but some of those materials, even if they are plastics, with a little ingenuity, can be given more positive value. One thing that worries me is that we are taking these materials, we are putting them in incinerators, we are losing them forever and we are creating carbon dioxide out of them, which is not a great thing…I think that incineration is not a good direction to go in. If you are investing many tens of millions, probably hundreds of millions, in urban waste incineration plants, and those plants are going to have a 30-year to 40-year lifespan, you have to have the waste streams to keep them supplied. That it is a market pull on waste. It encourages the production of waste. It encourages the production of residual waste. It encourages people to think that we can throw what could be valuable materials, if we were to think about them innovatively, into a furnace and burn them. “.
According to UKWIN: “The 2018 Budget should be seen as a wake-up call for those who think that waste incineration will be able to get away with avoiding the cost to society of the fossil CO2 that is released or the harm that incineration causes to recycling. It is time for Councils to ready themselves for a circular economy, and that means supporting the top tiers of the waste hierarchy and avoiding ‘leakages’ such as incineration and landfill that result in resources being lost to society”.