Climate change study finds burning waste is rubbish

The United Kingdom Without Incineration Network (UKWIN) has today launched a report that looks into the climate change impacts of waste incineration in the UK.

The 56-page report found that in 2017 the UK’s 42 incinerators released a combined total of nearly 11 million tonnes of CO2. Around 5 million tonnes of this CO2 was emitted through the incineration of fossil-based materials such as plastic. The 5 million tonnes of fossil CO2 released by UK incinerators in 2017 is estimated to have resulted in an unpaid cost to society of around £325 million.

The report highlights yet another way that plastic is harming our environment, with polluters getting away without paying their fair share for the climate damage that they are causing. The study says that over the next 30 years the total cost to society of fossil CO2 released by UK’s current incinerators equates to more than £25 billion pounds of harm arising from the release of around 205 million tonnes of fossil CO2.

Each tonne of plastic incinerated results in the release of around 1.43 tonnes of CO2. According to the report, a typical waste incinerator built in 2020 would release 2.8 million tonnes of fossil CO2 over its 30-year lifetime. Even when electricity generation is taken into account, this is equivalent to releasing around 1.6 million tonnes of CO2 more than sending the same waste to landfill.

Josh Dowen, Associate Coordinator of the United Kingdom Without Incineration Network (UKWIN), says: “The study shows waste is a rubbish feedstock for generating energy. Burning large quantities of plastics gives rise to a small amount of electricity that comes with a high climate cost. To add insult to injury, those profiting from waste incineration are not paying for the huge cost to society of emitting all these greenhouse gases, and so a UK-wide waste incineration tax is long overdue”.

Dowen continued: “The climate change impacts of incineration are worse than landfill. Most of what is incinerated could and should be recycled or composted. It is time to stop thinking of waste as potential incinerator feedstock and time to recognise the urgent need to reduce, re-use and recycle”.

The report, ‘Evaluation of the climate change impacts of waste incineration in the United Kingdom’, is available to download from


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