The report from UK think-tank Policy Connect argues that diverting the UK’s 27.5m tonnes of residual (‘non- recyclable’) waste for green heat is better for the economy and the environment than current solutions of overseas export or landfill. It finds widespread deployment of energy-from-waste (EfW) plants across UK regions is needed to deliver a coherent circular and sustainable waste policy that heats and powers UK homes and avoids expensive shipping of waste abroad, and carbon intensive landfill.
The report builds on findings from Policy Connect’s plastic policy roadmap published in 2019 calling for the UK to halt plastic exports and boost UK recycling infrastructure. This new report supports the waste hierarchy and concludes that – if plastics are removed and carbon capture technology applied – EfW technology is the safest, cheapest and most environmentally responsible solution to the UK’s residual waste problem.
EfW can be taken to refer to the suite of technologies, from the proven and available combustion generating power and low carbon heat, as well as emerging technologies including gasification and pyrolysis, producing innovative outputs including aviation fuel, manufacturing chemicals, transport fuels and more.
The report – No Time to Waste: Resources, recovery & the road to net-zero – is backed by 13 cross-party politicians. It calls for a new “Scandinavian” policy approach to ensure the UK’s annual 27.5m tonnes of ‘residual waste’ becomes a strategic domestic low carbon heat and energy resource, rather than a problem to bury or ship abroad. Even as the UK progresses to its ambitious 2035 recycling targets, a valuable untapped potential for energy-from-waste technologies exists if government pivots residual waste policy away from landfill and export and towards domestic EfW heat networks and carbon capture.
MPs say stronger policy signals from government could unlock billions of pounds of private investment and see UK energy from waste capacity increase to become the nation’s solution for non-recyclable waste, generating low carbon heat for half a million homes. Currently, the valuable potential low carbon heat networks is being squandered by outdated national policy and a lack of coordination between local authorities, planners and industry. As the country recovers from the economic shock of COVID-19, the report finds “Energy-from-Waste plants can help cut emissions from local homes, energy intensive industries, aviation and transport . A new policy framework is needed from Government to create stability and certainty to unlock billions of pounds of community and infrastructure investment.
A more “Scandinavian” approach to UK domestic waste management policy could see the UK on track for its ambitious recycling targets by 2030, but could also see:
- Green heat for half a million UK homes by 2030: If 80% of our residual waste goes to EfW by 2030, we would be generating enough low carbon heat to support over half a million homes (equivalent to Birmingham; or Edinburgh + Glasgow combined; or Liverpool and Manchester), if we address the heat network challenge and scale up this infrastructure.
- Emissions reductions to Net Zero 2050: The UK will avoid four million tonnes of CO2 emissions in 2030 alone, if we send 80% of our residual waste to EfW and displace landfill, a figure comparable to the emissions from over nine million barrels of oil. Further emissions will also be avoided by utilising EfW heat.
- Unlocking investment for new waste infrastructure investment and jobs in UK: The sector stands poised to invest billions in infrastructure and green jobs if the policy landscape allows. Money (£280M annually) currently also spent by the UK on shipping ‘non-recyclable’ waste overseas could instead build domestic infrastructure at home, including 10 state-of-the-art plastic recycling facilities in the UK each year, creating hundreds of regional jobs across the UK.
What a more “Scandinavian” policy approach entails:
- Continue to drive ambitious recycling and waste prevention
- Remove plastics from the UK’s residual waste stream
- Halt shipping residual waste abroad and instead use it for domestic low carbon heat, electricity, or
- Minimise all UK waste going to landfill
- Continually reassess national waste treatment capacity and requirements
- Circular new policy that drives investment into EfW infrastructure to meet increased UK demand
- Collaboration across government, with councils, planners, waste and energy industries, to unlock
economic, environmental and social benefits of EfW