Energy from waste overcapacity could limit recycling rates, according to the Confederation of Paper Industries (CPI).
The CPI does not oppose incineration as such, but said the UK could soon reach overcapacity, a state it said had already been reached in Germany, the Netherlands and some Scandinavian countries.
Where UK local authorities entered long-term residual treatment contracts underpinned by guaranteed minimum tonnages “there is a genuine risk that residual treatment over-capacity could act as a disincentive to increasing recycling rates,” the confederation warned in its annual review.
It is warning both central and local Government of the “potential risks to the future availability of quality recyclate posed by thermal waste treatment”.
The CPI said clean, source-separated recyclables were a valuable resource, but the need to keep incinerators supplied under these contracts could see “the boundary between extracting value from mixed dry recyclables and otherwise ‘recovering’ it via residual waste treatment [becoming] blurred once the capacity threshold is achieved.”
It also said that major exports markets, notably China, were likely to enforce tougher restrictions on the quality of imported materials long term “meaning that the UK could become squeezed out unless quality improves”.
The annual review said collection of recovered paper in the UK rose by 1.5% in 2012 to 8.15m tonnes, giving a 2012 recycling rate of 70% in line with the European target. Exports represented 55% of total UK collections, a 1.1% increase on 2011, with China accounting for 70% of the exported total.
The CPI also highlighted its role in lobbying in the last year against the development of large-scale energy-only biomass – which it fears would drive up the costs of wood and paper prices by competing for forestry products.
CPI director general David Workman said it had worked with environmental organisations “to lobby against the development of large scale energy-only biomass plants, which are inefficient and demand such high volumes of wood that they present a potential threat to the supply of wood for pulp.”
He added: “At the same time, we are continuing to lobby extensively for Government to incentivise on-site good quality combined heat and power plants which are currently the only proven method for papermakers to achieve significant improvements in carbon and energy performance.”