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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:31 am on 11th February 2020.

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Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 10:31 am, 11th February 2020

I congratulate my hon. Friend Mrs Hodgson on securing the debate. As she said, it is our second debate on the matter in recent weeks, and it is one of a series of contributions from her on the question of waste incineration, particularly in relation to what she described as the “monster” incinerator that is planned for her area.

Other hon. Members used that phrase, as well as the words “giant” and “enormous”, today when they spoke about planned or active incinerators in their areas. As Wera Hobhouse said, we need to understand why, in an era of zero-carbon ambitions for our economy, the idea of granting permission for such enormous plants to deal with our waste is still being contemplated.

In general policy, we must recognise that the age of incinerators is over. A decade or two ago, perhaps we could have said that incineration was an improvement on the previous practice of landfill. Indeed, in this country incineration has increased in inverse proportion to the reduction in landfill over the last few years. However, as we move towards net zero, we are in danger of freezing in time our waste strategies by granting permission for large incinerators that capture waste streams over time. That will prevent us from moving up the waste hierarchy in dealing with our waste generally, and in looking at it as a resource to be recycled, reused and put back into the circular economy—rather than put in landfill or burned, usually for minimal energy recovery.

It is significant that only 16 of the country’s 44 incinerators are enabled for anything more than minimal energy recovery. They are enabled for combined heat and power, to capture the heat as well as the electricity that comes out of the process, but only half of them actually produce any heat and power. The vast majority of large incinerators do not produce much energy, and they certainly do not capture the heat that comes out of the plants.

On the other hand, they capture the waste stream over long periods of time. My hon. Friend Darren Jones described that process in his area, with waste arriving from all over the country to feed the furnaces of the incinerators. From the description of the plans for the new north London waste incinerator given by my hon. Friend Kate Osamor, I suspect that is also the case in her area. We are in danger of ossifying the process of waste disposal. Now is not the time to go down that route; it is the time to move rapidly up the waste hierarchy and think about different ways of disposing of waste.