The amount of local authority-collected material being sent to energy-from-waste (EfW) facilities increased by 25% in the past year to 7.8 million tonnes, surpassing the amount sent to landfill for the first time.
Defra’s latest local authority waste management figures reveal that disposal to landfill dropped 20% during the same period, to 6.4 million tonnes.
There has been an expansion in EfW capacity during the past few years. Viridor recently said its profits had been boosted by five EfW schemes coming into service during 2014-15.
Other EfW sites that have opened in the past year include Suez’s facility in Great Blakenham, near Ipswich, which processes 269,000 tonnes of waste a year. Multifuel Energy, a joint venture between electricity generator SSE and Wheelabrator Technologies, also launched its Ferrybridge Multifuel 1 power station in July this year.
The Defra figures also confirmed that England’s household recycling rate is still flatlining. Finalised figures show the rate stood at 44.8% from January to December 2014. Previous indications were based on provisional statistics. This is a 0.6% rise over 2013.
But provisional figures for the financial year covering April 2014 to March 2015 show a slightly lower rate of 44.7%.
The bitter truth is that far too many councils are in the 30% to 40% zone or even lower
Biffa Municipal’s Roger Edwards
Lee Marshall, chief executive of the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee, said: “The EfW and landfill figures are a reflection of the number of plants now coming on-stream, which is enabling local authorities to use that route over landfill. That’s definitely encouraging.
“I don’t think there are any worries about EfW capacity crowding out recycling at all. The recycling rate is a reflection of the funding cuts we’ve had in the past five years, and local authorities’ ability to introduce new services is diminishing all the time.”
He added that meeting the UK’s mandatory target to recycle 50% of household waste by 2020 was “looking difficult”.
“It is encouraging that the rate is continuing to increase, but we appreciate the gains are fairly small at the moment.”
David Palmer-Jones, Suez chief executive, said: “For the UK to achieve its agreed EU target of 50% recycling rates for household waste, England has to improve its performance and Suez believes this is still possible provided some key changes are taken in the way waste is collected at the doorstep.”
Suez reiterated calls for mandatory separate food waste collections once a week and the collection of residual black bag waste fortnightly, which it claimed could add 6% to council recycling rates. It also backs pay-as-you-throw schemes which are not permitted in the UK.
Wide variations between councils revealed
South Oxfordshire District Council topped the local authority recycling table for the second year running. Its recycling, reuse and composting rate was 67.3% in 2014-15.
Neighbouring Vale of White Horse District Council was placed second with a 65.6% rate. The two councils have a joint collection service run by Biffa, weekly separate food waste collections, and bi-weekly dry recycling, refuse and chargeable green waste collections. Both have recently started collecting waste textiles and small WEEE from householders.
The lowest rate was the Isles of Scilly, at 14%, with the London boroughs of Newham and Lewisham just above at 17%.
Biffa Municipal managing director Roger Edwards said: “While we are very proud that Biffa has helped some authorities to achieve league-leading recycling rates of close to 70%, the bitter truth is that far too many councils are in the 30% to 40% zone or even lower.
“Every local authority needs to do its upmost to maximise recycling, particularly those that are capable of doing 50% or better as there are a number of others which will probably struggle to get near that milestone rate.”