Waste Incineration Facilities — [Sir Roger Gale in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:52 am on 11th February 2020.

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Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment and Climate Change), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy) 9:52 am, 11th February 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Sir Roger. I congratulate Mrs Hodgson on securing the debate. We were here two weeks ago to debate this issue, and it is very important that we raise it.

For too long, waste incineration has been labelled as energy from waste and seen as part of the circular economy and a green way of disposing of our municipal waste. Councils have been struggling with their budgets, and they look into anything that saves money. Bath and North East Somerset Council has just agreed a big contract for a waste incinerator. I have raised concerns about that, and I am still arguing with the council about whether it is actually a green solution. We have been looking at ways of diverting waste from landfill because it creates methane, a potent greenhouse gas, but burning waste creates very high carbon emissions, too. That must get into the public domain so that people who make decisions know what they are doing.

I believe that we should not send waste to incinerators. Every tonne of municipal waste that is incinerated releases between 0.7 tonnes and 1.7 tonnes of carbon dioxide. Recovering energy from waste produces more carbon emissions than burning gas. As was mentioned, incinerators need a blend of waste materials, including plastics, to have the calorific value to create enough heat. Incineration is just a cheaper option than landfill for getting rid of municipal waste. The result is that we become a lot less active in avoiding, reducing and recycling. The order of the waste hierarchy is: avoid, reuse, recycle, incineration and then landfill. Incineration is only one step above the landfill solution.

The more incineration plants are built in this country, the less likely we are to achieve our target, because local authorities need to fill incinerators with waste for them to function. I have been a councillor and tried to ensure that people recycle more. It costs a lot of human resources to go around and ensure that households—particularly hard-to-reach households—recycle in a particular way, and it costs councils money. It is no wonder that cash-strapped local authorities are looking at cheaper options, but incineration is not the right option. The real way to reduce carbon emissions is to recycle more or, indeed, to find compostable materials. I had a meeting yesterday with an interesting company that is looking into compostable plastics, but those are not the plastics that an incinerator needs. We need to look at actual green solutions, not at incineration.

I recognise that 10 years ago, energy from waste seemed like a way to get to a low-carbon economy. When our target was to reduce our carbon emissions by 80% by 2050, it was an option, but everything has changed since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. We now know that we have to get to net zero by 2050. The last 20% of emissions are crucial, and they are very difficult to get out of the atmosphere. For that reason, low-carbon solutions are no longer an option. We have no time to invest in low-carbon technologies; we need to put all our efforts into net zero solutions. I believe that incentives and disincentives are the way forward. I also support the idea of an incineration tax. The landfill tax has made a massive difference in diverting waste from landfill; an incineration tax would ensure that we do not just divert all our waste to incinerators.