The spread of energy from waste (EfW) is damaging UK progress towards recycling targets, the Green Party has said.
In a report A Burning Issue; How Incineration is Stopping Recycling, the party said that incineration would overtake recycling as the main method of waste disposal during 2018-19, with landfill a distant third.
It said incineration already exceeds recycling volumes in London, the West Midlands and the north-east.
While the Government has committed to 50% recycling by 2020, this target would be unachievable, according to the Greens, without damage to the finances of the EfW industry
Baroness Jones, party representative in the House of Lords, said: “I find it shocking that the UK is on the verge of burning more waste than it recycles.
“The ban on recycled waste going to China has inevitably led to a UK pile-up, and that could bring forward the moment when our recycling gets treated as a fuel rather than a valuable resource.”
She said incineration should be a last resort option for waste that could not be recycled or reused, but instead there was “a market-driven system of incinerators which constantly need to be fed”.
Many of the councils that have signed up to long-term contracts with incinerators have recycling rates among the country’s worst, the report said.
The Greens called for action to encourage recycling including weekly food waste collections, recycling contracts that include plastic tubs, pots and trays, publishing the financial details of EfW contracts and a tax on incineration.
China’s ban on importing most recyclables “could see the tipping point between incineration and recycling reached this year, as material is burnt instead of being processed properly”, the report said.
It called for the UK to build infrastructure to recycle its own waste.
The report, Energy for the Circular Economy: an Overview of Energy from Waste in the UK, said “simple policy interventions” could support the diversion of up to 60 million tonnes of waste from landfill in the next 10 years, saving 12 million tonnes of CO₂.
“We have made great progress in boosting household recycling rates, which have increased from 11% to over 45% between 2000 and 2016. More waste is being recycled than incinerated, and less waste is being sent to landfill.
“Our 25-year plan for the environment set out our commitment to leave the environment in a better state than we inherited it, and we’ll be setting out more detail on how we further increase our recycling rates in our forthcoming Resources and Waste Strategy.”