Should the UK have more energy from waste plants? | The Big Question

Last month, The Times ran a front-page article claiming the public is opposed to “burning waste” for energy. We ask if incineration-based energy from waste should be part of the UK’s power capacity

Adam Read
Global practice director, AEA
Yes. EfW is a cornerstone of any advanced sustainable waste management solution. Some materials are not suited to recycling and composting, while others do not produce a quality product through MHT or AD processing. Even the highest recycling rates recorded globally show specific materials, such as nappies or composites, that just don’t suit recycling. Thus using this residual waste stream to generate electricity, and even more importantly heat is sensible, affordable and environmentally responsible.

Becky Slater
Resource use manager, Friends of the Earth
No. Incineration destroys precious, finite resources and is inefficient, releasing much more greenhouse gas per unit of electricity produced than fossil-fuelled power stations. The energy released will only ever be a fraction of what went into making the product – it’s best therefore to design out waste and reuse and recycle as much as possible. That saves money and materials and creates more jobs. Landfilling plastic that you aren’t recycling sequesters its carbon, so is more beneficial than incinerating.

Peter Davis
Director general, British Plastics Federation
Yes. We have very little EfW capacity in the UK compared with the greenest countries in Europe. We have 25 plants for a 61m population, whereas Denmark has 32 plants for a population of just 5m. EfW gives Denmark 16% of its heat and power by combusting unrecyclable material. The UK has a growing energy crisis with supply not equalling demand from 2017, made worse by companies pulling out of building nuclear power stations. EfW can provide 11% of our energy needs from unrecyclable waste.

Terry Robins
Consultant, TR Pack Solutions
Yes. We need to get rid of the non- recyclable waste somewhere, but the issue needs to be treated delicately. You have to inform the public about flue cleaners and what modern incinerators actually emit. Public education is paramount but there will be many people who will never be convinced so placement at the correct sites away from large towns but equally not spoiling the countryside is of vital importance, so EfW companies will also need to be inventive in placement and disguise of the buildings.



  1. David Eggleston

    Opponents of properly planned EFW have to answer one very simple question. “What should we do with combustible wastes which cannot be recycled or composted in an environmentally efficient and effective manner?”
    There will always be some such wastes however much progress is made on waste reduction efforts so how are they to be managed? Surely they would not suggest landfill!
    We need to have a balanced approach to managing waste and not exclude any option which can play a useful role.

  2. A big focus should be on manufactured items to reduce waste overall. The cost of making packaging is worn by the manufacturers (and passed on) at the moment but no cost of disposal at all. This cost should be part of the overall purchasing equation cost so that consumers, through their purchasing decisions, have a say in disposal costs of manufacturered items.
    Items like diampers and tetra packs would then have a more realistic price than the false cost they have now.
    Then incineration with appropriate scubbing would be used to reclaim their energy rather than loosing it.