Burning waste ‘could heat half a million UK homes and support net zero goal’

A new report suggests diverting 80% of the country’s non-recyclable waste for green heat could also help avoid four million tonnes of carbon emissions by 2030 alone

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The UK could generate enough low carbon heat to support more than half a million homes by 2030 by burning waste, according to a new report.

Think tank Policy Connect says diverting the nation’s 27.5 million tonnes – or 80% – of non-recyclable waste for green heat could also help avoid four million tonnes of carbon emissions over the next decade alone – equivalent to the emissions from more than nine million barrels of oil.

Its report, backed by 13 cross-party MPs, finds widespread deployment of energy-from-waste (EfW) plants across the UK is needed to deliver a coherent circular and sustainable waste policy that heats and powers homes and avoid the expensive shipping of waste abroad.

It calls for a new “Scandinavian” policy approach, which includes halting the shipping of non-recyclable waste abroad, minimising all UK waste going to landfill, implementing new policy that drives investment into EfW infrastructure and removing plastics from the residual waste stream.

While the report recognises the waste management industry has reduced its own carbon emissions by 69% since 1990, it says the sector has untapped potential to help other sectors of the UK economy to decarbonise on the road to net zero, including transport, industry and domestic heating.

The think tank suggests EfW infrastructure can be fitted with new technologies to capture carbon – like waste plants fitted with carbon capture and storage (CCS) in Oslo, Norway -, harness heat for homes equivalent to a UK city the size of Birmingham as well and create low carbon fuels for trucks and planes.

The MPs add stronger policy signals from government could unlock “billions of pounds” of private investment but “outdated” national policy and “a lack of co-ordination” between local authorities, planners and industry are hindering it.

In a foreword to the report, the MPs state: “The need for safe and effective removal of our waste has never been more important. As the UK embarks on our Build Back Better movement, we must no longer simply bury or export the problem. Instead, we should, as other European economies do, treat residual waste as a valuable resource to produce lower carbon heat and energy, alongside a focus on achieving our important recycling targets and investing in innovative recycling technology.

“Energy from Waste (EfW) is not the perfect long term solution for residual waste. But accompanied by a drive to increase heat use and to decarbonise EfW further, it is the best available technology and is an essential part of the net zero transition ahead of us.”

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow welcomed the report, adding: “Now more than ever, it is crucial we move from a ‘throwaway’ society to one that always looks at waste as a valuable resource. We want to be a world leader in tackling this challenge, which is why we’re transforming our waste system to ensure products are built to last and easier to recycle or repair.

“We will consider the recommendations in this report as we drive forward our ambitious waste reforms and meet our net zero emissions goals.”

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