UK can achieve 'zero waste' without incineration

| 5th October 2010
Peterborough Renewable Energy Park (artist's impression)
Peterborough Renewable Energy Park (artist's impression)

Plans for greener incineration plants such as this one in Peterborough aim to make the process more acceptable

Current 'dump it or burn it' mindset can only be resolved by moving away from incineration and landfill and aiming for a zero waste policy, say campaigners

Building new incineration facilities would undermine the UK's drive to increase recycling as well as releasing toxic and greenhouse gas emissions and hazardous ash, says The United Kingdom Without Incineration Network (UKWIN).

Incineration is the burning of waste and can reduce the volume of waste by as much as 90 per cent but releases pollution in the form of dioxins, formed by the burning of chemicals that contain chlorine.

A report from Friends of the Earth last year estimated the UK was wasting £650 million and generating 19 million tonnes of avoidable carbon dioxide every year by sending resources that could be recycled to landfill or incinerators - with textiles and plastics the biggest offenders.

However, there are Government plans to increase the number of incineration plants with supporters citing how heat released from the combustion can be recovered and used to generate electricity, heat, steam or hot water; in a process known as Energy from Waste (EfW).

In response to a Defra consultation on the future of waste, UKWIN says the UK should strive to achieve a sustainable zero waste economy that does not rely upon increasing incineration capacity and also called for an end to waste contracts that incentivise incineration.

'We need to prevent over-provision of incineration capacity at both regional and national levels for social, economic and environmental reasons. We do not need any new incineration capacity to achieve a zero waste economy...building new incinerators would be counter-productive.'

Undermining zero-waste

UKWIN chair Tim Hill said that burning discarded material went against the principle of zero waste.

'The evidence shows that incineration has no place in a zero waste economy. Incineration wastes money and valuable resources. UKWIN believes that the current 'dump it or burn it' mindset undermines sustainability and is fundamentally hostile both to enhancing the environment and to the Government’s other objectives.'

UKWIN called for the introduction of an incineration tax starting at a minimum of £40 per tonne to ensure economic benefits reward recycling, composting and anaerobic digestion alternatives and tax breaks for charity shops, community groups and social enterprises working to reduce waste.

The campaign group also said incineration was not an alternative to preventing landfill and that only a 'small faction' of our waste is non-recylable and that we should be aiming to phase out such waste rather than relying on burning it.

'If we realise the true genius of zero waste then we can expect to witness the fulfilment of our shared vision of a UK without incineration,' said UKWIN national coordinator Shlomo Dowen.

Defra's consultation closes on October 7th with the findings due to be to be published in Spring 2011.

Useful links
Map of existing and potential household waste incineration sites

Defra guide to incineration

The new green face of incineration technology
Incineration is a dirty word amongst environmentalists, its reputation earned through the use of outdated technology. Could new techniques help bring green approval to energy-from-waste facilities?
How to campaign for less waste and more recycling
From plastic bag-free towns to refashioned clothes and bus fleets run on chip fat, here's a guide to what you can do to tackle waste in your community
Recycling best for everything except garden waste
Government urged to improve recycling facilities after review of waste options finds it has the smallest environmental footprint
UK losing £650m a year by binning and burning waste
A report from Friends of the Earth reveals the huge extent of the pollution and financial losses caused by our love of landfill and incineration
Incinerators: the lethal consequences of breathing fire
Despite the best efforts of the industry to rebrand and clean up incineration, the fact remains that today's incinerators still permit pollution.

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