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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:41 am on 11th February 2020.

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Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 10:41 am, 11th February 2020

No. Processes will be followed. So much of what is coming down the tracks, through the resources and waste strategy and the Environment Bill, should introduce a paradigm shift in the way we treat waste. The intention is that a tax may never need to be introduced, but one will have to watch the direction of travel and whether we are really cutting down on waste, because that is the intention before we ever have to introduce a tax.

As Members pointed out, incinerating has a carbon impact, but the evidence available is that the carbon impact of most mixed waste streams commonly sent to energy-from-waste plants is lower than if we sent it to landfill. Every day that passes brings new advances in carbon capture, and I am pleased to report that the Government will invest £800 million in this technology to deploy the first carbon capture clusters by the mid-2020s.The technology could potentially be applied to energy-from-waste plants to capture the carbon emissions from incinerating waste, thereby reducing carbon dioxide emissions even further. I point out, because the shadow Minister mentioned this issue, that all municipal waste incinerators are combined heat and power-enabled. Only nine deliver heat, but they all supply electricity.

The Government are clear that energy from waste should not compete with greater waste prevention, reuse or recycling. Currently, England has enough operational energy-from-waste capacity to treat about 38% of residual municipal waste, including a proportion of commercial and industrial waste. The majority of the 40 or so existing plants use conventional incineration with energy recovery, as that is tried and tested, but other technologies, such as pyrolysis and gasification, could achieve greater efficiencies, reducing environmental impact and delivering outputs beyond electricity generation. This is a changing space, and science is obviously benefiting the sector. Nevertheless, for the foreseeable future, conventional energy from waste will continue to have an important role in diverting waste from landfill, and it is the best option for most waste that cannot be reused or recycled.

I mentioned on 28 January that the Government are working to drive greater efficiency of energy-from-waste plants. That is largely through Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy initiatives and it includes encouraging use of the heat that the plants produce, in addition to the electricity generated. The Government have in place other, wider measures that help to draw waste away from landfill and incineration. There is an opportunity to deliver significant greenhouse gas savings by converting the wastes into transport fuel, for example. Through the renewable transport fuel obligation—that is quite a mouthful—the Government incentivise the use of organic waste such as cooking oil and food waste to produce renewable fuels. The Department for Transport is examining the potential to support innovative waste-to-fuel technologies that have the capacity to produce advanced fuels, including even jet fuel.

Many hon. Members touched on regulation. Energy-from-waste plants in England are regulated by the Environment Agency and must comply with the strict emission limits set down in legislation. That includes plants using gasification technology. Every application for a new plant is assessed by the agency to ensure that it will use the best available techniques to minimise emissions and that it will not have a significant effect on local air quality. The Environment Agency will not issue an environmental permit if the proposed plant will have a significant impact on the environment or will harm human health.