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ESA says more energy recovery plants may not harm recycling

The Environmental Services Association (ESA) has challenged claims that increasing the number of UK energy-from-waste (EfW) plants harms recycling rates.

Various environmental consultancies have argued the UK is heading towards EfW overcapacity. For example, Eunomia’s third residual infrastructure report in November 2012 claimed that the UK was on track to reach overcapacity of residual treatment facilities between 2015 and 2018, as reported in MRW.

The ESA has said there was not enough evidence to prove these claims, citing other consultancies such as Ricardo-AEA which did not support the view that the UK would suffer overcapacity. Ricardo-AEA said that some less developed facilities will not be built due to supply and demand.

In February, Defra published an Energy from Waste Guide, which suggested the proportion of waste available for energy recovery might decrease as recycling and reduction rates increased.

But the ESA pointed to UK examples such as Northumberland, which has increased its recycling rate by around a third in the last six years, whilst also sending residual waste to a PFI-funded EfW plant, which is enabling the council to divert waste from landfill and generate renewable electricity in the process.

The association also said other EU states showed that high recycling rates “happily coexisted” with high levels of energy recovery. Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Sweden, all have much higher levels of both recycling and energy recovery than the UK.

Ross Barry

ESA director general Barry Dennis, left, said: “The UK still landfills 20m tonnes of rubbish from households and businesses every year and, if we are serious about creating a circular economy where waste is valued as a resource rather than something that needs to be disposed of, then this has to stop”.

He added: “We all want to see recycling rates increase, and we should be aspiring to the 60-70% levels seen in the best EU countries. But we also need to deal with non-recyclable rubbish and EfW plants do this while also generating the energy the country needs.”

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