An independent review of the role of incineration in Scotland recommends a cap on future energy from waste (EfW) capacity.
The report, which was authored by waste sector expert and former CIWM CEO Dr Colin Church, reviews the role of incineration in the waste hierarchy, with a focus on aligning national capacity with Scotland’s waste reduction targets.
The report makes 12 policy recommendations for the Scottish Government, local authorities and the wider waste industry, including proposing that no further planning permission should be granted to EfW infrastructure within the scope of the review, “unless balanced by an equal or greater closure of capacity”.
The capacity analysis completed for the review suggests that there is “likely” to be a capacity gap in 2025, when the biodegradable municipal waste (BMW) ban comes into force.
As we transition to a circular economy, Scotland will need significantly less incineration capacity than is currently projected and it is vital that we do not have more capacity than we need.
This will be “exacerbated” if the ban is extended to include all non-municipal biodegradable waste, the report states. While this capacity gap could be closed by Scotland achieving its waste and recycling targets, stakeholders raised concerns about the likelihood of achieving these targets, drawing on experience and comparisons with other nations as evidence of what could be possible.
The review recommends that Scotland should limit the granting of further planning permissions for EfW infrastructure.
It also proposes developing an indicative cap that declines over time for the amount of residual waste treatment needed as Scotland transitions towards a fully circular economy.
Dr Colin Church said that whilst “well-regulated” incineration does have a role to play in managing unavoidable residual waste in Scotland, the capacity currently being proposed is likely to be “more than needed”.
“So, a lot of it should not be built,” he said. “For the proportion that is developed, the level and quality of engagement with local communities needs to be excellent, which unfortunately has not always been the case to date.
“There is also more that must be done to reduce the climate impacts of waste incineration, and I look forward to revisiting my provisional recommendations in this area in due course.”
Strategic place in the waste hierarchy
The Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) said that it “broadly welcomes” the recommendations and conclusions set out in the report, in particular that more needs to be done to reduce the amount of residual waste produced and, where that can’t be done, to remove as much recyclable material as possible before it is submitted to a residual waste treatment process.
A CIWM spokesperson said: “We also welcome confirmation of incineration’s strategic place in the waste hierarchy and that its environmental effect – in terms of carbon emissions – needs to be reported separately.
“However, using English landfills as an interim solution to fill the capacity gap that will be created by the Scottish BMW landfill ban in 2025, is less preferable than directing as much of it as possible to treatments that include combined heat and power, either in England or in mainland Europe.
Using English landfills as an interim solution to fill the capacity gap that will be created by the Scottish BMW landfill ban in 2025, is less preferable than directing as much of it as possible to treatments that include combined heat and power, either in England or in mainland Europe.
“CIWM looks forward to engaging with the Scottish government as it develops its forthcoming Route Map and the revision of Scotland’s National Planning Framework.”
Scotland’s Circular Economy Minister, Lorna Slater, said: “It is clear from the review that although incineration has a role to play in managing Scotland’s unavoidable, unrecyclable residual waste in a safe way, that role is inevitably limited.
“As we transition to a circular economy, Scotland will need significantly less incineration capacity than is currently projected and it is vital that we do not have more capacity than we need.
“Dr Church has proposed some valuable recommendations and outlined some important considerations for how we can align the management of residual waste in Scotland with our net zero ambitions. We will consider the recommendations carefully and provide an initial response in June.”