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Climate Change Quotes

Governmental Sources

Prime Minister Boris Johnson:
I see my right hon. Friend’s point [seeking reassurance that regulations on emissions from incineration will be further enhanced and greener alternatives encouraged] with great concern. As we move to a net zero [carbon] economy by is vital that we tackle those kinds of [greenhouse gas] emissions. That is why we are establishing the Office for Environmental Protection, and I will chair a new Cabinet Committee to drive forward action on climate change across the whole of Government.

A spokesperson for the National Infrastructure Commission:
Far too much of our waste goes to landfill or incineration, releasing harmful carbon emissions and hampering efforts to tackle climate change. Our research shows the strong public support there is for action to ramp up recycling and to tackle plastics and food waste in particular.

HM Government:
Sending plastic waste to, for example, incineration, has an environmental cost in the form of additional CO2 emissions.

Michael Lenaghan, Environmental Policy Advisor at Zero Waste Scotland:
The grid is decarbonising…and burning waste is adding emissions and not helping to decarbonise. Energy from Waste is problematic from a climate change perspective…compared to other renewables.

National Infrastructure Commission:
Reducing the waste sent to energy from waste plants (incinerators) by recycling more plastic and converting more food waste into biogas can also help reduce overall emissions…The successful delivery of a low cost, low carbon energy and waste system requires…encouraging more recycling, and less waste incineration

Thérèse Coffey, Resource Minister:
My hon. Friend the Member for Rugby referred to energy from waste. I caution against some of what he said. In environmental terms, it is generally better to bury plastic than to burn it...We need to be careful about what incentives we push.

The Scottish Government:
...when plastics are switched from landfill to incineration, the net impact in terms of climate change is, under most reasonable assumptions, strongly negative.

DECC and Defra:
...Bioenergy is not automatically low carbon, renewable or sustainable...

DECC and Defra:
it is essential that bioenergy which contributes to our short and medium term targets...also puts the UK in a good place for longer term decarbonisation

Defra (Waste Economics Team):
MBT (mechanical biological treatment)-landfill provides the best emissions performance in terms of the treatment/disposal of residual waste. It essentially involves landfilling somewhat stabilised wastes with some material recovery. The magnitude of the environmental impact depends on the extent to which the waste is stabilised.

Defra (Waste Economics Team):
The emissions from waste combustion of non-biogenic material (via any technology including mass-burn incineration) are also not comprehensively reflected in the price of disposal. Unless the installation in question is in the ETS (municipal solid waste incinerators are excluded) a negative externality persists – such installations are creating GHG emissions without paying the relevant price.

Parliamentary Sources

Dr Alan Whitehead, Shadow Minister - Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Energy and Climate Change:
...We need to understand why, in an era of zero-carbon ambitions for our economy, the idea of granting permission for such enormous plants to deal with our waste is still being contemplated. In general policy, we must recognise that the age of incinerators is over. A decade or two ago, perhaps we could have said that incineration was an improvement on the previous practice of landfill...However, as we move towards net zero, we are in danger of freezing in time our waste strategies by granting permission for large incinerators that capture waste streams over time. That will prevent us from moving up the waste hierarchy in dealing with our waste generally, and in looking at it as a resource to be recycled, reused and put back into the circular economy—rather than put in landfill or burned, usually for minimal energy recovery...We are at a turning point. The future is net zero; it cannot be incineration. We have to move rapidly up the waste hierarchy, and there are challenges and obstacles to that ambition.

Environmental Audit Committee:
While incineration of unsold stock ‘recovers’ some energy from the products, it multiplies the climate impact of the product by generating further emissions and air pollutants that can harm human health. Incineration of clothes made from synthetic fibres may release plastic microfibres into the atmosphere. Climate changing emissions will have been generated when the products were created and more CO2 will be produced when they are burnt. The waste hierarchy suggests that reuse and recycling comes first. This should be a priority means of dealing with unsold stock. Incineration should only be used as a last resort where there is a health and safety case for destroying the stock. The Government should ban incinerating or landfilling unsold stock that can be reused or recycled.

Envionmental Consultancy Sources

Ann Balinger, Senior Consultant at Eunomia:
If biogenic carbon storage is accounted for, using the national waste composition based on 41% recycling, government guidance on assumptions for electricity generation and a GWP of 25 for methane, even if we assume Defra’s central landfill gas capture rate of 60%, there will be no net climate change benefit over the lifetime of the plant for an incineration facility commencing operation next year if that facility generates only electricity.

Other Sources

Changing Markets Foundation, Zero Waste Europe and UKWIN:
With regard to incineration alone, the cost to society of the adverse climate impact of the CO2 released from burning carpets is estimated to be £16.5 million in the UK in 2019...Burning old carpets comes with a significant adverse climate cost, both in terms of the greenhouses gases released through combustion and because of the environmental impact of extracting new resources to replace the carpet that was incinerated. Eunomia research found that burning waste carpet, which is predominantly plastic, is likely to be a higher carbon route than burning gas, and that the burning of waste is generally more carbon intensive than all but coal.

Jeffrey Morris, Ph.D. Economist, Sound Resource Management Group::
Because plastics are relatively inefficient as a fuel source and also contain many additives that release pollutants harmful to human and ecosystems health, the solution to plastics littering our waters and landscapes does not lie with using waste plastics as energy sources. That will increase the harm waste plastics are already doing to our climate and health. Rather, effective solutions to our plastics crisis need to come from reductions in the generation of plastics waste by such actions as eliminating single use plastic packaging of all kinds, promoting compostable as well as reusable food carry out containers, and requiring true biodegradability in all items that currently are found on roadsides, in waterways and our oceans.

Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL):
...incineration is the primary source of greenhouse gas emissions from the management of plastic waste. As reliance on incineration grows, so do emissions from plastic waste. Even when waste incinerators generate electricity that might otherwise have been generated by burning natural gas, incineration still consumes more energy, resulting in greater greenhouse gas emissions compared to other management options. Moreover, the offset greenhouse gas emissions will decrease over time as fossil fuels for electricity generation are phased out. As this energy mix shifts to incorporate more renewable sources, using plastic incineration for energy production will become a much greater percentage of net CO2 emissions from the energy sector. In Europe, the total greenhouse gas emissions from plastic—estimated at 132 Mt in 2017—and an additional 90 Mt of CO2 will be released each year based on the current trend of increased incineration in the region. This projection highlights the urgent need to end the use of incineration as a waste management strategy. This conclusion runs counter to the dangerous trend of new and expanded investments in incineration in Asia, Latin America, and Africa.

Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL):
Incineration leads to extremely high emissions and is the primary driver of emissions from plastic waste management...As the [low carbon] energy transition occurs, the incineration of plastic waste will become one of the largest sources of fossil fuel emissions in Europe’s energy sector... Even at present, carbon emissions per kilowatt generated from WTE incineration of plastic waste are not low enough to beat natural gas carbon emissions per kilowatt hour. That is, WTE incineration of plastic packaging waste is over 20 percent higher in carbon emissions per kilowatt hour than natural gas. Compared to renewables, the carbon emissions from WTE are greater by an order of magnitude.

The 5 million tonnes of fossil CO2 released by UK incinerators in 2017 resulted in an unpaid cost to society of around £325 million.

...composition analysis indicates that a clear majority of 'residual waste' is readily recyclable...

...even when energy is recovered in the [incineration] process, the net effect of incineration of plastic waste is to contribute to [i.e. exacerbate] climate change...

Material Economics:
...plastic contains substantial embedded carbon in the material itself, which is released as CO2 when plastics are incinerated…a continuation of the current shift towards burning plastics would result in substantial additional emissions in 2050...Clearly, the incineration of fossil-based plastics cannot continue in a low-carbon economy

Keith Freegard, Axion Polymers Director and Vice-chair of the British Plastics Federation Recycling Group:
The carbon release from waste incineration needs to be considered and compared to the alternative methods of generating an equivalent amount of electrical power. Typical Energy from Waste plants have efficiencies of up to 30% for converting feed material into electricity; in contrast, a modern Combined Cycle Gas Turbine's efficiency is typically about 50%... this disparity in efficiencies means that producing 1 MWh of electricity from a CCGT produces just 40% of the CO2 emissions for the same amount of energy made from plastic incinerated at an EfW plant...Increasing incineration capacity also stifles innovation in alternative resource recovery technologies because investment is diverted away from developing new processes towards building huge plants for burning materials to inefficiently create power...Climate change concerns us all and efforts to control rising global temperatures have included a focus on the uncontrolled burning of fossil fuels in many parts of the world. The huge shift in corporate and national energy-habits required to leave fossil fuels in the ground will only happen with a Carbon Tax placed on the generation of electrical power that is directly linked to the tonnes of CO2 released into the atmosphere per unit of power created.

Keith Freegard, Axion Polymers Director and Vice-chair of the British Plastics Federation Recycling Group:
Even the most modern burner [waste incinerator] designs are relatively inefficient at energy recovery, generating lower amounts of electrical power per tonne of fuel burned when compared to high efficiency, combined cycle gas turbine systems (CCGT). Both power generating units are ultimately doing the same task: converting carbon-rich fuels into electricity…while sending atmospheric-polluting carbon emissions up the exhaust stack as a major environmental cost associated with the beneficial electrical power supplied into the local grid

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