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Feature: The burning issue

When it comes to waste and recycling, the passion of Daniel Instone is infectious.

The head of the waste strategy division at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) seems on the outset to be of the English eccentric mould. Yet this is refresh-ing when he is surrounded by lots of faceless bureaucrats at Defra.

Instone has only been in the job since last August, but it becomes clear that he knows his stuff, which must be useful for his minister Ben Bradshaw. As one of the authors of the Waste Strategy Review consultation document, it would also be wrong to say that he has a burning passion.

“A lot of media coverage has been about inciner-ation,” he says. “But the document covers a wide range of issues and energy from waste (EfW) is only part of the canvas and not all of it. EfW has a role to play. We don’t do much of it in the UK. Barely 10% of all the forms of waste treatment is EfW. This is less than most of Europe.”

Clearly frustrated by the national media portrayal of a country ready to incinerate most of its waste, Instone wants to reassure the recycling and waste management industry, as well as the public, that other forms of waste management come first.

“We have clearly said that EfW has to be subordinate to waste prevention and recycling,” he says. “In fact, this is less of an increase in incineration than we put forward in the review in 2000. Then we said that we should incinerate a third of our waste, but now we believe it should be about a quarter.

“The reason for this is that we have assumed an increased recycling rate than we believed would happen in 2000. So it is misleading to say that we have shifted to a policy for much more EfW.”
One of the issues that has so far held back an increase in incineration of waste has been the difficulties in getting planning permission for the sites in face of local opposition. But Instone argues that the Government has put in place measures to smooth the process.

“We have published a new planning policy statement, PPS10. This is a departure because it required local authorities to identify sites for waste treatment. The signs are that this will help the planning system. It gives assurance that sites have been identified.

“There is also a mismatch between perceptions and reality. People are concerned about the health impacts of EfW. But reports have made it clear that there are no major health issues. Indeed, the Waste Incineration Directive has ensured that there are good standards in place for this.

“A lot of the worry comes from old plants that used to belch out pollutants. But now there are more dioxin emissions from fireworks on November 5 than there are from an EfW plant. The climate change emissions are less than from a landfill site. This was also pointed out in the environmental document we also published
at the same time as the Waste Strategy Review consultation. It is definitely better to minimise and recycle first, but EfW is a better option than landfill. That’s why we made it clear that local authorities have to follow the waste hierarchy, which is why we have increased recycling targets. This has required us to be ambitious.”

Instone also points out that when it comes to alternative technologies such as mechanical biological treatment (MBT) or gasification, Defra remains technology neu

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