Waste incineration set to overtake recycling in Derbyshire

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Derbyshire is on the verge of burning more of its rubbish in incinerators than it recycles, according to data from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

About 157,859 tonnes of rubbish, 39 per cent of all waste, ended up in incinerator plants in 2016-2017, the last period for which data has been released.

The vast majority was sent to specialist Energy-from-Waste (EfW) power plants as fuel to generate heat and electricity.

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These figures include rubbish made up of everyday items that are disposed of by the public at home or on the go.

More waste is being burnt than recycled. Photo: Brian EyreMore waste is being burnt than recycled. Photo: Brian Eyre
More waste is being burnt than recycled. Photo: Brian Eyre

Most of the rubbish, about 47 per cent has been recycled or composted by Derbyshire but the proportion of waste incinerated has gone up by 53 per cent over the last two years.

Across England, waste burning has become more common. The average incineration rate in the country is about 38 per cent, up from 30 per cent two years earlier.

A report launched last week in the House of Lords stoked the debate on burning waste in Britain.

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Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat politicians warned about the negative impact on health of the ‘incinerator boom’ and called on the Government to take oversight on the industry and introduce an incineration tax.

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The research revealed that harmful particles released by incinerators in England last year were equivalent to the emissions of more than a quarter-of-a-million 40-tonne lorries travelling 75,000 miles (120,000 km) per year.

However, Libby Forrest, policy and parliamentary affairs officer at Environmental Services Association, says the increase of waste incineration should be celebrated.

She said: “Energy from Waste has increased because we are successfully moving away from landfill, which is more damaging to the environment.

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“Energy from Waste saves 200kg of carbon dioxide per tonne of waste diverted from landfill and generates low-carbon power far more efficiently than landfill, contributing to renewable energy targets and energy security.

“A number of factors have contributed to stalling recycling rates.

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“The easy wins for recycling had already been made by this point, commodity prices fell which has made it much more difficult for secondary resources to compete with primary, and until very recently there has been a lack of political willpower to take action.”

Derbyshire sent 53,878 tonnes of waste to landfill, 13 per cent of the rubbish collected by the council.

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Around 3,868 tonnes were disposed by methods other than incineration, recycling or landfill.

The Government aims to recycle half of the household waste by 2020 nationally, cutting to 35 per cent the proportion of rubbish sent to landfill.

Shlomo Dowen, national coordinator of United Kingdom Without Incineration Network (UKWIN), thinks that most of what is incinerated could be recycled, which would reduce the amount of harmful emissions that worsen air quality.

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He said: “Across the UK there is more than 19 million tonnes of residual waste treatment capacity operational or under construction, but forecasts indicate that by 2030 there will only be around 10 million tonnes of residual waste available for treatment.

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“This means that we are already facing an overcapacity of incineration that is harming recycling.

“Many councils are locked into long-term waste contracts that encourage the incineration of recyclable and compostable material.

“Some councils have already broken free of these waste contracts.

“We need central Government to help the other councils renegotiate or cancel these awful contracts.”

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Baroness Jones, the Green Party member of the House of Lords, said: “There is a logic to generating energy from the waste that we cannot recycle or reuse, but it is meant to be the last resort option.

“What we have created instead is a market-driven system of incinerators which constantly need to be fed.”