16th July 2020
New report says prioritising energy-from-waste policy to 2025 will cut costs and carbon for UK taxpayers in a 'win-win' for economic & environmental recovery
The UK cannot afford to waste any time in tackling its national waste problem sustainably, say cross-party MPs in support of a new report today, calling for a more 'Scandinavian' approach linking energy and waste policy.
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 new 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 transport1. A new policy framework is needed from Government to create stability and certainty to unlock billions of pounds of community and infrastructure investment.
In 2020, Volocys won planning approval and UK government support for the UK's first commercial waste-to-jet fuel facility in Lincolnshire, expected to be operational in 2025.
In a foreword to the report, 13 cross-party politicians say, 'The need for safe and effective removal of our waste has never been more important. As the UK embarks on our Build Back Better movement, we must no longer simply bury or export the problem. Instead, we should, as other European economies do, treat residual waste as a valuable resource to produce lower carbon heat and energy, alongside a focus on achieving our important recycling targets and investing in innovative recycling technology. Energy from Waste (EfW) is not the perfect long-term solution for residual waste. But accompanied by a drive to increase heat use and to decarbonize EfW further, it is the best available technology, and is an essential part of the net-zero transition ahead of us.'
Oliver Feaver, Policy Manager, Policy Connect, and author of the report says, 'Non-recyclable waste will be with us long into the future. Energy-from-Waste is the cheapest, safest and lowest carbon solution to this problem and could provide green heat, equivalent to the needs of half a million homes, or a city the size of Birmingham. This next generation of EfW plants will likely be among the last, so without clearer policy signals as we reboot our economy, the UK will waste this valuable opportunity to build back better.'
Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said: 'Now more than ever, it is crucial we move from a 'throw away' society to one that always looks at waste as a valuable resource. We want to be a world leader in tackling this challenge, which is why we're transforming our waste system to ensure products are built to last and easier to recycle or repair. We will consider the recommendations in this report as we drive forward our ambitious waste reforms and meet our net zero emissions goals.'
Paul Taylor, CEO, FCC Environment which operates six EfW plants, with one in construction, including the UK's largest EfW heat exporter in 2019 says, 'Even though Britain is recycling more than ever, everything else that goes in black bin bags in wheelie bins today is still destined for landfill, export or recovery. For some time now we have been working to minimise waste to landfill for many reasons including space, tax, emissions, and perpetual maintenance. Similarly, sending our waste for recovery overseas post-Brexit is not viable and will simply fuel unnecessary carbon emissions. The lack of clear, joined-up policy signals means the UK is wasting valuable domestic opportunities to scale low carbon heat networks with the potential to support hundreds of thousands of UK homes and businesses.'
Neville Hargreaves, VP Waste to Fuels, Velocys says, 'In the next five years, we plan to enable the supply of millions of litres of sustainable aviation fuel from everyday household waste which will help to decarbonise the transport sector, create new jobs and set the country on a path to net zero by 2050.'
No time to waste - Tapping the UK's valuable Energy-from-Waste potential:
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.
To read more, look at the documents below:
Policy Connect - No Time To Waste
EFW News Release