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Whitehall told to take waste seriously

Ministers have ignored their own sustainability principles over energy-from waste (EfW), causing the UK to lose out on a potential 18 million tonnes of domestic low carbon fuel, according to the Environmental Services Association (ESA).

The ESA made the claims in its response to calls for submissions from the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) on how well Government policies are contributing to sustainable development.

It also told the committee that a circular economy (CE) was vital to sustainable development and the waste and secondary resources industry was integral to achieving this. It criticised support for weekly refuse collections and said ministers should focus on recycling, investment in new facilities and waste crime.

It said Whitehall principles indicated that:

  • EfW must support the waste hierarchy
  • EfW should seek to reduce environmental impacts of waste and maximise energy generation
  • Government support for EfW must provide value for money
  • the Government must be technology neutral

But the ESA says these have been violated as supported technologies are often unable to achieve “recovery” status and were classified as “disposal”. It added that supported technologies tended to be less efficient than unsupported conventional combustion and were more expensive. It added that there was clear discrimination between different technologies.

ESA also said growth of the sector could be higher with “better policy coordination” between departments and that “long-term, strategic policy backing” from Government was needed.

Meanwhile, WRAP has argued in its submission that the UK must pursue a CE regardless of what the EU does. It said: “An ambitious circular economy approach, advocated in our 2014 report, should be taken regardless of the European Commission’s future work programme and we hope the next EAC will explore ways of strengthening UK and European measures to reduce waste and increase resource efficiency.’”

The charity suggested a number of metrics to measure improvements including to what degree public sector procurement takes into account product lifetime and the ease of repair.

WRAP also argued for a metric that benchmarked the extent to which new legislation promoted sustainable development and indicated the sustainability of UK economy trends over time.


  • ESA said the waste and secondary resources industry provides 103,000 jobs, and generates an estimated £6.8bn GVA to the UK economy. By moving away from landfill to recycling and recovery, the industry also plays its part in mitigating climate change, and has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 70% since 1990.
  • It is estimated that by further diverting waste from landfill, the industry has the potential to create 50,000 more jobs and boost GDP by £3bn, and is forecast to generate 3.6TWh of renewable energy by 2020.
  • Joint research by WRAP and Green Alliance calculated that over 200,000 new jobs could be created between now and 2030 by moving towards a more circular UK economy, and that these jobs could potentially address social issues including the predicted future loss of mid-level jobs.
  • WRAP’s 2020 Vision would involve 30 million tonnes less material entering the UK economy, 50Mt less waste being produced and 20Mt more material being recycled back into the economy, generating greenhouse gas savings of over 60Mt (CO2e).

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