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Row rages over EfW facilities and emissions

Businesses looking to build energy-from-waste (EfW) facilities always have to deal with local anti-incineration cam­paigners. With the Government gearing up to take a policy decision on whether to back EfW or not, this battle is increas­ingly being played out on the national stage.

Many campaign groups are linked through the UK Without Incineration Network (UKWIN) organisation. In July, it launched a report at the House of Lords which raised the notion that EfW plants are emitting more particulate matter (PM) pollution than is currently being recorded.than is currently being recorded.

It is not clear how influential the UKWIN report is among MPs, but we do know that Labour shadow resources minister David Drew gave it his sup­port. He told MRW that a redrafted Labour policy on waste will have a “much more sceptical attitude” to EfW because it is “crowding out recycling”.

EfW companies will have to present a clear case against these arguments if they are to persuade the voting public that the UK needs more inciner­ators.

Here, MRW gives voice to Cory Riv­erside and Amey, which have both issued rebuttals of UKWIN’s report. It is a particularly pertinent issue for Amey because it faces a battle with the Cambridge Without Incineration campaign group over plans for an EfW facility at Waterbeach.

Waterbeach EFW decision delayed

waterbeach efw

A Cambridgeshire County Council spokesperson said: “The officer report for the Waterbeach EfW planning application was not ready to go to the council’s planning committee in July.

“This was due to the large number of comments made during the most recent public consultation which have to be considered, and clarification sought from specialised consultants and statutory consultees, so that officers have all the information they need to be able to make their recommendation to the committee.

“Taking into account the high level of interest locally in this planning application, a bespoke meeting with the committee has been sought, along with an appropriate extension of time from the applicant. The report is due to be ready for the planning committee on 17 September 2018.

“Now that a date has been scheduled, details have been provided to all those that wrote in with their views during the consultation period.”

Using a calculation method that has been hotly contested, UKWIN claimed that all UK EfW plants had emitted emissions of partic­ulates known as PM10 and PM2.5 above reporting threshold levels in 2017.

Disputed particulate calculation

The Environment Agency (EA) has set a reporting threshold for PM10 and PM2.5 emissions at one tonne a year. If emissions reach those levels then this information should be made public.

Because PM10 and PM2.5 are not measured separately, the EA requires incinerators to monitor only the total particulate matter (TPM) emitted continuously. The reporting threshold for TPM is set at 10 tonnes a year – a level that is unlikely to be reached by any EfW plant.

UKWIN used EA guidance to come up with an estimation of PM10 and PM2.5 levels emitted based on the amount of waste burnt by each facility. Using an ‘emissions factor’ of 0.022, which is multiplied by the tonnage of waste, it came to the conclusion that all incinerators are emitting above the reporting limit.

UKWIN is calling for a moratorium on new incinerators becoming operational until mandatory reporting for PM10 and PM2.5 is in place, along with a limit on PM1 emissions and a lower­ing of the allowable total particulate emission level.

It is also wants to see a tax on inciner­ation, something that the Treasury is considering due to “widespread public support”. If the EfW sector loses the argument, it could hit businesses and councils in the pocket as gate fees increase to offset taxes.

Responses to UKWIN

nick pollard

Nick Pollard, chief executive, Cory Riverside Energy

The UK gener­ates a vast amount of waste. It is only right that efforts are being made to ensure that we reduce and recycle as much as possible, but we will still be left with residual waste which must be disposed of in an environmentally intelligent manner.

Unfortunately, landfill is still the only means available for much of the UK – London alone sends 2.5 million tonnes a year to landfill. This disposal method is dirty, contaminates the atmosphere and damages the ozone layer through release of corrosive gas.

The long-term Government policy on landfill and landfill tax are working, and sites are steadily being closed down with consequent environmental benefits.

But the only alternative option for disposal of residual waste is through the use of EfW plants, in the UK or abroad. Such facilities offer not only a less environmentally damaging method of dis­posal, but generate valuable baseload electricity, create aggregates that avoid UK quarrying and can also provide heating for local district circuits.

In other words, the UK needs to invest in more EfW capacity if it is to stop sending waste to landfill and avoid transporting waste abroad.

This is why it was so disappointing to read the recent report from UKWIN which argued for a moratorium on new EfW capacity until an incineration tax is introduced. Even more concerning was that the emissions data which formed the basis of its argument was deeply flawed.

In particular, the methodology applied by UKWIN to PM10 and PM2.5 emissions is based on a blanket assumption that all EfW plants emit the same proportionate levels of PM. This is simply not the case, and means that emissions from the EfW sector are vastly overstated. In Cory’s case, our PM emissions are over-estimated by more than 80%. Yet the correct information is easy to find – it is published monthly on our website.

In addition to the flawed methodology, the report offers no alternative solution to the waste challenges facing this country. It also risks distracting pol­icy-makers from the pressing need to ensure that the UK’s infrastructure for disposal of residual waste is in a resil­ient, efficient and environmentally sound condition.

This argument may not come as a surprise, written as it is by the chief executive of an EfW company. But this issue is much bigger than our company, for it speaks to a pressing need at the heart of UK infrastructure to recognise our needs in good time and build the requisite infrastructure for an efficient nation.

Whether that is transport, water, power, telecoms or waste disposal – we need policies and attitudes that allow the private sector to get on with the job.

This means that we need conversations based on accurate data, not ill-founded assumptions and conjecture that speak to a narrow bias and cause prevarication.

rob edmondson

Rob Edmondson, managing director, Amey Environmental Services

Amey has invested in all aspects of the resource management hierarchy, from encouraging residents and businesses to prevent and reduce waste, to investing in merchant recycling capacity at our Waterbeach site, composting and anaer­obic digestion, mechanical treatment and energy recovery from residual waste.

We manage 1.8 million tonnes of waste and recycling every year and create enough energy to power 60,000 homes.

This waste is being produced day in, day out, by households and businesses, and it does not wait for policy to change. It is essential that it is managed in order to protect human health and the environment. Waste-related activities across the UK are carefully regulated by the respective environmental enforce­ment agencies, all working to European-wide regulations and binding international agreements.

More than three million tonnes of waste is exported to the continent every year for energy recovery, representing a significant loss of value to the UK econ­omy and society. These losses include energy, job creation and the potential for creating more district heating schemes.

But a further 26 million tonnes of waste is still being landfilled every year. So it is crucial that domestic infrastruc­ture is put in place to recycle even more materials and ensure that the UK recov­ers the maximum value from residual waste and retains as many of the benefits as possible.

The UKWIN report seeks to draw equivalences with other sources of emis­sions, but its headlines ignore the impact of emissions from other meth­ods of treating waste, collecting and processing recyclables or, indeed, the value of recovering EfW.

It fails also to present the figures in context. For example, there are 37.7 mil­lion licensed vehicles in the UK, more than half a million HGVs and almost four million LGVs that all produce emissions.

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