London Assembly rebuked over EfW report

The London Assembly has called for a reversal of the trend in the capital for councils to send waste materials for incineration – but it has been censured by the Environmental Services Association (ESA) for offering no solutions.

Following a series of hearings, the assembly’s environment committee has concluded in a report that the total of two million tonnes of waste going to energy-from-waste (EfW) facilities last year – doubling in the past decade (see chart) – should be cut.

But the ESA expressed disappointment, saying the committee criticised EfW without offering solutions and the increase was “a success story”.

Launching the report, committee chair Leonie Cooper acknowledged that EfW had benefits in generating heat and power but it should be an option of last resort.

“As London is expected to grow, we urgently need to reduce the amount being sent for incineration and to separate out useful materials,” she said.

“Once these materials are burnt, they are lost for ever and cannot be used within a circular economy. Incineration can no longer be relied on to manage our waste effectively.”

The report, Waste: Energy from Waste follows two others on waste in the past six months, one on household recycling and the other on the circular economy (CE).

The EfW report concludes:

  • Recyclable materials are unnecessarily going to incineration, including materials, such as plastic, that are potentially hazardous to health when burnt.
  • London sends some of its waste abroad and to other parts of the UK.
  • EfW plants do not sort recyclable waste as part of the process because this is seen as the responsibility of residents, businesses and local authorities.
  • Not all boroughs offer separate food waste collections, so food waste is being burnt rather than going to environmentally friendly processes such as anaerobic digestion
  • London must cut the amount of waste being sent for incineration and burn less organic and plastic waste, as well as recyclable materials.
  • ESA executive director Jacob Hayler said EfW had an important role to play in the transition to a CE.

“The increase of the amount of London’s waste sent to EfW in the past decade is a success story; this is the waste left over after recycling which would otherwise be sent to landfill.
“It is incredibly disappointing that the London Assembly Environment Committee has overlooked this. We are perplexed how the committee sees EfW as a hindrance to recycling, despite the overarching evidence to the contrary. And we are baffled how the report so readily highlights the treatment capacity gap in London while simultaneously criticising EfW operators and offering nothing in the way of solutions.

“We hope that the final report going to the mayor next month has some actual policy recommendations grounded in reality and addressing the big challenges London faces.”
In a tweet, Colin Church, chief executive of the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management, said the report ”repeated the error” that two-thirds of waste going to EfW was renewable when in 2014 Defra estimated it to be about half.

Mark Sommerfeld, policy analyst at the Renewable Energy Association said an ambition to increase recycling rates was to be welcomed but the report ”missed the mark” on EfW.

“London must focus on increasing recycling rates through ensuring local authorities are able to invest in new recycling infrastructure and separate collection systems, while making it as straightforward and standardised as possible for consumers to recycle their waste.

“This includes ensuring we are making the most of the substantial volume of food waste being produced by the city that should be going to anaerobic digestion for the production of renewable power, heat or green gas for transport. This will ensure we make the most of this valuable resource which is only set to increase as London grows.”

The United Kingdom Without Incineration Network gave evidence to the inquiry. National co-ordinator Shlomo Dowen said: “The mayor should work harder to ensure London’s existing incinerators are not burning such high volumes of recyclable and compostable material.

“London has an exciting opportunity to be a truly zero-waste city, and the first step is to realise that incinerators are a relic of the outdated linear system that should be consigned to the dustbin of history.”

References: MRW

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