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Report claims plastics incineration causes harm totalling £25bn

UK incinerators will cause nearly £25bn of environmental harm during the next 30 years by burning plastics, a report from environmental campaigners has claimed.

Anti-incinerator group United Kingdom Without Incineration Network (UKWIN) said it looked at the output of the country’s 42 incinerators.

It calculated that nearly 11 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) was put into the atmosphere in 2017, around five million tonnes of which was fossil-based materials such as plastic.

Its report Evaluation of the Climate Change Impacts of Waste Incineration in the United Kingdom said that during the next 30 years, releasing fossil CO2 from incinerators would cause more than £25bn pounds-worth of harm.

The figure is based on UKWIN’s calculation using Government estimates on the costs involved in mitigating pollution.

It estimated that each tonne of plastic incinerated results in the release of around 1.43 tonnes of CO2. A typical waste incinerator built in 2020 would release 2.8 million tonnes of fossil CO2 over its 30-year lifetime.

UKWIN associate co-ordinator Josh Dowen said: “The study shows waste is a rubbish feedstock for generating energy.

“Burning large quantities of plastics gives rise to a small amount of electricity that comes with a high climate cost. To add insult to injury, those profiting from waste incineration are not paying for the huge cost to society of emitting all these greenhouse gases, and so a UK-wide waste incineration tax is long overdue.”

But Libby Forrest, policy and parliamentary affairs officer at the Environmental Services Association, said: “Figures from both the Green Investment Bank and a peer-reviewed report by Cory Riverside Energy show that each tonne of waste diverted from landfill to energy-from-waste (EfW) saves 200kg of CO2. UKWIN’s report suggests that landfill has net negative carbon emissions, which is clearly not the case.”

Forrest added that incineration was the best option for dealing with non-recyclable waste, and efforts should be focused on increasing the recyclable content of products and supporting end markets to make recycling economically viable.

“That way we can pull material up the waste hierarchy rather than simply pulling out a crucial step that provides support to the whole waste management system,” she said.

Swindon Borough Council has proposed temporarily stopping the recycling of mixed plastics and instead send it to EfW. Swindon said this was because of uncertainty about exports and other markets.


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