Waste Incineration and Recycling Rates

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:54 pm on 12th January 2021.

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Photo of Craig Williams Craig Williams Conservative, Montgomeryshire 4:54 pm, 12th January 2021

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McVey. I commend my hon. Friend Elliot Colburn for securing this important debate, and for the way he opened it. I know that the Minister, who has—as we all have—spoken on this subject over the months and years, will agree about the circular economy and with much of what we have said to date, and I look forward to her response.

Research done by WRAP Cymru in Wales found that 75% of the ‘ingredients’ for incinerators in Wales could have been recycled. We are missing a trick as we look at the development of incinerators, and I will touch on that in respect of my constituency of Montgomeryshire. Equally, turning to my Celtic cousins in the north, the Zero Waste Scotland review found that the only energy source with a comparable carbon intensity to energy from waste was coal. We know full well what has happened to coal power stations in this country. If incinerators follow them, I hope the Minister will promptly look at the waste-to-energy plans going forward.

In my constituency, there is a development for an incinerator and I pay tribute to Councillor Amanda Jenner, who is part of our Conservative team. I note the comments about the Liberal Democrat administrations and councillors across the country, and I share some of the fears outlined today about some of their actions.

Councillor Jenner is leading a campaign to ensure that there is proper consideration of any major planning applications during this pandemic. I note the concern of the community and the councillors right now that a planning application for such a substantial incinerator is being put forward. It is a difficult time to organise community meetings and get the proper planning representations in.

My chief concerns around incineration are that, while there is a role for it, there is new technology emerging that will deal with things that are non-recyclable at the moment. The landfill of the past was awful, and I speak on behalf of a massive rural constituency when I say that landfill is not something we enjoy. However, now we have taken a lot of organic matter out of landfill, there is a role for looking at the non-recyclables and a way to store them either in warehouses or in some new landfill of the future where that resource could be mined when the technology is available to recycle it. I welcome the Minister’s thoughts on looking at the current non-recyclables and a way of storing them for the short period while we invest in technologies to increase our recycling.

I pay tribute—to lend a non-political angle—to much of the Welsh Government’s work on the recycling targets. As a Welsh Member of Parliament, of course we work across the parties on this. The recycling targets are ambitious and are being met. Our local authority of Powys in Montgomeryshire is doing a terrific job, both for education and the facilitation of recyclables. It is a great shame when the community sees a planning application for a large incinerator in a very rural area that will require huge HGV movements from across the border in England and from a large area of Wales. Montgomeryshire is 840 square miles with 50,000 people. That does not lend itself to a huge industrial incinerator with waste transported on our struggling trunk roads.

The main thrust of my contribution to this excellent debate and what I am looking to the Front Bench for is to see what the Minister’s priorities are, looking forward, for both waste-to-energy and incineration more broadly with the investment in anaerobic digesters. I do push back a bit, because for my constituents in Montgomeryshire, anaerobic digesters are being brought forward by private investors—the agricultural community, especially poultry farmers. Anaerobic digesters are receiving a lot of private funding. The Government do not necessarily need to put a lot of money that way, but they do need to look at the regulatory framework and non-fiscal support. I know the Treasury will welcome anything right now that does not require a cheque book.

Anaerobic digesters are taking a lot of the organic waste out, so then we can look at the non-recyclables. That is not necessarily needing to burn them, but looking in the future to see how we can store and mine them as a resource. I know there is a time limit, so I will wind up but I reinforce my point that while incineration has had a role to date, I look forward to a way that we can wind it out of our circular economy over the decades.