Menu Close

MPs speak out against incineration at Westminster Hall debate

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.”

Click here for a video of the event from Parliament TV.

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.

Click here for a 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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

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