The Green Investment Bank (GIB) has been criticised for failing to broaden its investment strategy for waste by investing too heavily in energy-from-waste (EfW) and anaerobic digestion (AD) plants.
Funds from GIB has backed 12 waste facilities, seven thermal treatment plants, three AD plants and two combined heat and power plants (for example, the Speyside CHP plant above).
Eunomia chairman Dominic Hogg, right, voiced his criticisms on the Isonomia blog, prior to the latest GIB announcement that it is to provide £28.25m funding for another EfW plant, at Lanark in Scotland.
Hogg’s Isonomia blog says that while the processing capacity of GIB-backed plants is 1.9m tonnes per annum, only 3% of this is for recycling. The majority (85%) of the output is for EfW.
“I suppose that case-by-case the GIB can be said to be applying the waste hierarchy,” Hogg said, “But its overall portfolio of investments isn’t that of an organisation striving to apply the hierarchy as a priority order.”
Eunomia is an environmental consultancy that has criticised the raft of new EfW projects, arguing that the UK is heading towards overcapacity and that will contribute to lower recycling targets.
With a narrow range funded facilities, Hogg argues that this demonstrates the GIB’s short-sighted view on its investment strategy.
While EfW plants currently appear environmentally sound, “decarbonisation of the electricity grid means the net emissions associated with an EfW plant gradually worsen”, he said.
With renewables making up an increasingly large part of the national grid, the carbon output from EfW plants will represent an escalating proportion of the national grid.
Hogg advised the planning board of the EfW plant in Norfolk plant that the carbon performance of the incinerator would become unjustifiable halfway through its expected lifespan.
“As a result”, Hogg says, “the GIB is supporting projects which are rapidly becoming the least favourable option for waste management in terms of carbon.”
He concedes that the GIB may be starting to alter their approach with the announcement of the new £50m Recycling and Waste fund for smaller-scale projects.
However, Hogg concludes that while this “might help the GIB break its recycling duck, it won’t substantially change the balance”.
The GIB’s waste managing director Chris Holmes said: “GIB is playing an important role in supporting the UK’s move to a more circular economy. Our investments in waste-to-energy projects are not displacing recycling and are avoiding waste being sent to landfill. Our most recent investments include the construction of a materials recycling facility to recycle 20% of incoming residual household waste, in addition to what is recycled at the kerbside, and we have also set up a £50m fund to invest in smaller recycling and waste treatment projects across the UK.”