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Waste review opens debate about incineration tax

The wording of Defra’s waste review documents indicate the possibility of an incineration tax, anti-incineration campaigners have claimed, but the industry remains sceptical.

The UK Without Incineration Network (UKwin) believes the Government’s Economics of Waste Policy document, together with elements of the waste review, suggest that a tax on waste incineration is under consideration.

The document states: “Where there remain un-priced environmental impacts in the management of waste, there are grounds for considering further intervention in the market to reflect these impacts.

“The emissions from waste combustion of non-biogenic material (via any technology including mass-burn incineration) are also not comprehensively reflected in the price of disposal. Unless the installation in question is in the emissions trading scheme (municipal solid waste incinerators are excluded) a negative externality persists - such installations are creating greenhouse gas emissions without paying the relevant price.”

UKwin co-ordinator Shlomo Dowen told MRW: “[These documents] suggest that the mechanisms the Government describes at its disposal to use to rectify these market failures include taxation.

“Taxation is an ideal way to intervene in the market. Obviously we would like to see a ban on materials that could be recycled or composted from being incinerated. I don’t think that is on the table at the moment, but it is already technically possible. And when it comes to an incineration tax, it is something UKwin called for in its submission of evidence to its waste review. The waste industry is looking to pay its way.

“The accompanying documents, not least the economics of waste, are only part of a larger Government programme. The giveaway is when the Government says specifically ‘wait for the 2012 Budget’ - the time to introduce an incineration tax is in the 2012 Budget.”

However, some who work in the waste industry are sceptical about this interpretation of the documents.

Energy From Waste UK co-signatory Keith Riley told MRW: “My interpretation of the waste review statement is that it equally opens the way for increased landfill tax or differential taxing of specific waste streams as much as taxing incineration. 

“[Right now] there would be no point in levying a tax on incineration because there is still a job to be done in lifting around 26 million tonnes per year off the bottom rung of the waste management hierarchy, and this should take priority over changing behaviour further up the chain.

“The statement from the Economics of Waste Policy is consistent with what has been suggested by the Department of Energy and Climate Change applied to all fuels that burn fossil carbon, not just waste.  Since this is the waste review, it refers specifically to waste. But the fact is that it applies to all fuels, and I would see it as making way for a fossil fuel tax rather than specifically an incineration tax.”

Readers' comments (2)

  • "Energy From Waste UK co-signatory Keith Riley told MRW: “My interpretation of the waste review statement is that it equally opens the way for increased landfill tax..."

    How does Keith reconcile this with Para 12 of Defra's Impact Assessment of the Waste Review, which states: "...government intervention such as the landfill tax raises the cost of sending waste to landfill, reflecting the environmental externality of disposing waste in this way. However, it does not reflect the relative scale of the environmental impact of treatment and disposal methods further up the hierarchy; for example, the externality associated with incineration, recycling or re-use. Although the recycling rate has risen, further intervention is required to further move waste to an efficient level amongst the various management options..."?!

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  • "The statement from the Economics of Waste Policy is consistent with what has been suggested by the Department of Energy and Climate Change applied to all fuels that burn fossil carbon, not just waste. Since this is the waste review, it refers specifically to waste. But the fact is that it applies to all fuels, and I would see it as making way for a fossil fuel tax rather than specifically an incineration tax.”

    - so Keith expects the tax to also cover RDF/SRF, and even co-incineration...

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