UK waste leaders have defended the role of incineration after a new report highlighted the dangers of overcapacity.
The study warned the opening of a Europe-wide market in exporting and importing waste for incineration, driven by over-capacity, threatened the application of the proximity principle.
It predicted growing capacity would increase waste shipping across Europe which could damage efforts to reach recycling targets.
The shipping of waste for incineration, the authors say, has an environmental impact through transport emissions.
It adds: “Overcapacity has very high potential impacts on recycling markets and on waste treatment prices. On one hand, investments in incineration facilities must be paid off and this creates a need of waste being sent to incineration, rather than prevented or recycled.
“On the other hand, if not enough waste is sent to incineration to pay off the investments, incineration fees must increase, which has an effect on waste charges paid by households and commercial activities.
“Last, overcapacity represents a financial risk for investing companies and public bodies.”
The report, produced by the ENT environmental consultancy in Spain and commissioned by anti-incineration group GAIA, claims that despite existing overcapacity in some countries, Europe-wide capacity is predicted to grow by 13 million tonnes by 2020.
Joan Marc Simon, coordinator of GAIA in Europe said: “If the European Commission is to maintain its commitment to limit incineration to non-recyclables by 2020, the strategy should be to close incinerators and not to build new ones. The objectives of the Resource Efficiency Roadmap and recycling targets won’t be achieved unless the European Commission tightly controls the European incineration capacity.”
Using data from a previous Eunomia report, the study claims the UK could have a waste treatment overcapacity of 6.9 million tonnes in the near future, but already exports half its solid recovered fuel to other EU states with existing overcapacity.
Jacob Hayler, economist at the ESA, said the situation in the UK was very different from the rest of Europe.
With over 30 million tonnes of waste going to landfill each year, he said new EfW facilities were still needed.
“Although some analysts have argued that we are likely to see EfW overcapacity in the UK in the years to come, this assumes all residual waste projects with planning consent are built. In practice this is unlikely to happen, not least given the extremely difficult conditions in the financing markets.”