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Review calls for moratorium on waste-to-energy incinerators

By John Glover

A review has concluded that a moratorium should be immediately introduced in Scotland on new waste-to-energy incinerators.

Scottish ministers ordered the report amid growing concerns that the industry was “locking in” waste by creating demand at incinerator sites.

Currently there are six sites operating in Scotland, with a further 10 going through the planning process.

The Scottish Government said it will respond to the report in full in June.

Growth in waste to incineration comes ahead of the 2025 ban on sending residual waste to landfill.

The report was carried out by Dr Colin Church, chief executive at the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining. It made 14 recommendations, such as the Scottish Government seeking to reduce the amount of recyclable materials going to landfill or incineration.

These included the suggestion that no further planning permission should be granted to incineration infrastructure, unless it is balanced by an “equal or greater closure of capacity”.

An “indicative cap”, which declines over time for the amount of residual waste treatment, was also put forward, as well as an aim of strengthening engagement with communities before, during and after development.

The report also predicted there will be a "capacity gap" by the time the landfill ban comes into force, explaining that this could be closed by achieving Scotland's waste and recycling targets.

It also called on the Scottish Government to only create the numbers that are necessary and not more, due to the risks incinerations pose to human health and the environment, adding: “Scotland should not construct more capacity than it needs and only some of the currently planned capacity should be built.”

Dr Church said: “The evidence I received shows that, whilst well-regulated incineration does have a role to play in managing unavoidable residual waste in Scotland, the capacity currently being proposed is likely to be more than needed, so a lot of it should not be built.

“For the proportion that is developed, the level and quality of engagement with local communities needs to be excellent, which unfortunately has not always been the case to date.”

Circular Economy Minister Lorna Slater said the review will play a “pivotal role” in shaping the country’s policy on waste in the future.

“We want to create a circular economy, where materials stay in use for as long as possible, and nothing is wasted,” she commented. “Only by increasing reuse and recycling can Scotland meet its net-zero targets, and we will be publishing ambitious proposals to achieve this soon.

“It is clear from the review that although incineration has a role to play in managing Scotland’s unavoidable, un-recyclable residual waste in a safe way, that role is inevitably limited.”

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