SNP and Green Party ministers called for new incinerators to be stopped immediately if they were given permission
SNP and Greens ministers should “immediately” prevent new incinerators from being granted planning permission and capacity caps, an independent review has outlined.
Last year, the Scottish Greens were accused of “acting like bureaucrats and listening to their SNP leaders” after failing to propose a moratorium on shutting down large incinerators, even though it was on the party’s election manifesto.
The party’s manifesto for last year’s Holyrood election vowed to “oppose the construction of new incinerators as they ease the pressure to reduce waste, create air pollution and are bad for the climate”.
Instead, Green Party Secretary for Circular Economy Lorna Slater ordered an independent review of the practice, failing to impose a moratorium.
Up to ten new incinerators are being planned or are scheduled to go into operation in the next few years.
READ MORE: Waste incineration increases by 400% under the SNP
These new incinerators could provide the capacity for an additional 1.5 million tonnes of waste to be incinerated in Scotland, while the amount of waste incinerated has increased by over 800,000 tonnes since 2011.
The waste expert Dr. Colin Church has made 12 recommendations to ministers, including that “with immediate effect” the Scottish Government “should ensure that no further planning permission (i.e. beyond that already in place) is granted for incineration infrastructure” unless it is will be “offset by an equal or greater capacity closure.”
The review calls on ministers “to work urgently with local authorities in remote and rural areas” where the ban will be difficult to comply with “to examine options which, if fully justified, will lead to the creation of a small quantity of additional capacity”.
Ministers have also been criticized for the previous lack of cooperation with local communities on waste incineration.
The recommendations also call on ministers to “expeditely seek further reductions” in the proportion of recyclable materials going to landfill or incineration and to develop “an indicative cap that decreases over time” for the amount of incinerated waste “as part of Scotland’s transition to a fully circular economy”.
READ MORE: Scottish Greens under fire over incineration turnaround ’embarrassment’
In his report, Dr. Church acknowledged that “there is likely to be a capacity gap” for incineration of waste in 2025 when a landfill ban goes into effect.
He added that while the gap will be closed if Scotland meets its waste and recycling targets, “stakeholders have raised concerns about the likelihood of meeting those targets”.
dr Church said that currently “incineration is less polluting than landfill,” but warned that “increased incineration, changes in waste composition, and more extensive decarbonization will make it less beneficial over time.”
The Scottish Government will set out its initial response to the review in June and this month will launch public consultations on a Circular Economy Bill and Waste Routes Map.
dr Church said: “The evidence I have received shows that while well-regulated incineration plays a role in managing unavoidable residual waste in Scotland, the current proposed capacity is likely to be more than is required, so much of this should not be built will.
“For the proportion that is being developed, the level and quality of engagement with local communities must be excellent, which unfortunately has not always been the case to date.
“More also needs to be done to reduce the climate impact of incineration, and I look forward to revising my preliminary recommendations in this area in due course.”
Ms. Slater added, “I would like to thank Dr. Church for providing this work which will play a crucial role in shaping Scotland’s future waste policy.
“We want to create a circular economy where materials are used for as long as possible and nothing is wasted. Only through increased reuse and recycling can Scotland reach its net zero targets and we will soon be publishing ambitious proposals to help achieve this.
“It is clear from the review that while incineration has a role to play in the safe disposal of Scotland’s unavoidable non-recyclable residual waste, that role is inevitably limited. As we move towards a circular economy, Scotland will need significantly less incineration capacity than currently forecast and it is vital that we do not have more capacity than we need.
“Dr. Church has made some valuable recommendations and some important reflections on how we can align the management of residual waste in Scotland with our net zero ambitions. We will carefully review the recommendations and provide an initial response in June.”
Environmental activists have welcomed the recommendations.
Kim Pratt, Circular Economy Activist at Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: “This report shows that the alarming rise in incineration in Scotland must be halted immediately – swift action is needed to prevent the loss of valuable resources and to reduce climate-damaging emissions stop caused by burning plastics.
“A ban on new incinerators is the first step in transforming Scotland’s waste management system, but it’s only half the story. The report makes it clear that more needs to be done to minimize waste and recycle as much as possible.”
She added: “Our current incinerators are among Scotland’s biggest polluters, so they need to be shut down if Scotland is to meet its climate targets. It is worrying that the report does not include a detailed carbon assessment, given the direct threat posed by incinerators to our climate targets.
“The incineration of plastic releases more carbon than coal, and the only way to finally reduce emissions from incineration is to stop incinerating waste. We need to properly value resources instead of taking them from nature, using them once and then burning or burying the waste.”