What we do with our waste is a subject which hits the press from time to time, and the news is rarely good. As an island nation particularly, the question is always - do we put our waste in landfill, burn it, or ship it somewhere else?
None of these are good answers. There have been various PR and environmental nightmares caused by selling our waste abroad, only to make it "somebody else's problem". And our own capacity for landfill is increasingly limited. Energy from waste plants can therefore seem like the solution - but incineration comes at a cost. Incinerating waste deals with the immediate problem, and even creates some energy as a useful by-product, but it can be toxic. The stark warning being given to the Government is that increasing energy from waste initiatives will take the country further away from its zero-carbon target, not closer because incineration inevitably leads to carbon emissions.
There is no straightforward solution to the question of "what do we do with our waste?". Instead, we need to focus on the essentials of the waste hierarchy and seek not to create the waste in the first place. Prevention is always better than cure, especially when the cures come with some pretty nasty side effects. Incinerators and energy from waste plants will continue to be part of the solution to what we do with our waste, but should not distract us from the ultimate goal which is not to produce that waste in the first place.
Local authorities with waste collection and disposal responsibilities will need to think hard, particularly as contracts are renewed or reprocured, about how to balance waste disposal with waste reduction.
Carbon emissions from waste disposal are increasing because of the expansion of energy-from-waste incineration plants, a coalition of campaigners has warned.