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Study warns of incineration capacity threat

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.”

Readers' comments (2)

  • The ESA are wrong to dismiss the issue of UK incineration overcapacity, especially as the European Commission advise that "the UK should look to reuse and recycling and not to overcapacity of incineration - Countries like Denmark and Switzerland are burning much more than they should and that’s not good". Contrary to the ESA's assertion, Eunomia does not rely on all projects with planning consent being built to arrive at their conclusion regarding overcapacity. Indeed, we already have more existing incineration capacity than genuinely residual waste. Incinerators are fairing poorly on the financing markets because incinerators are very expensive and completely unnecessary.

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  • All of the countries mentioned above also do not need to import lots of fossil fuels for their power and heating requirements, as they maximise the use of locally sourced renewable fuels such as garden waste, kitchen waste and residual waste which cannot be recycled. And biomass. As we should be doing, to the maximum, so that can start to reduce our current almost-total reliance on the importing of fossil gas from Russia, and fossil oil from the Middle East. Converting residual waste to energy instead of burying it in landfill sites is a positive environmental step, not a negative one. Good for our energy security, our energy decarbonisation, and our energy bills.

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