Half-Baked Incineration Policy

Ming’s podcast question hotline is a great idea and it is a shame they didn’t go with it earlier.

Unfortunately, it was let down by the content. No Mr Campbell, it is not a matter of deciding between incineration and recycling. There is a third option which is usually labelled as “incineration”: energy from waste. In other words you burn waste product and capture energy from it – as energy efficient as most gas or oil powered generators and even more so if you make it part of a combined heat and power system. And there is a fourth option which ought to be at the top of everyone’s agenda but gets sidetracked: waste reduction.

A lot of things – not least of all paper – are environmentally very expensive to recycle with little gain. Indeed, environmentally speaking, surely burning used paper has got to be better than growing crops specifically for the purpose of energy production – at least you get a double hit? Plastic is a tricky case: because of the way much of it is treated, it is often much more environmentally friendly to burn, but there’s a lot of mileage in regulating to standardise the plastics we use for packaging and thus make recycling more viable.

The claim that incineration discourages recycling is utterly spurious. Think about it. If it is true that an incineration industry discourages recycling (actually the EU’s top recyclers are also top energy from waste generators), then it is equally true that a recycling industry discourages waste reduction. If you are going to employ such simplistic arguments then the only conclusion is to oppose both.

A more sensible approach is to have an integrated recycling and energy system in which the two work hand-in-glove. A more sensible approach would be to tightly regulate incinerators to ensure that only modern, efficient and zero-emissions systems can be used. A more sensible approach would scrap the landfill tax and replace it with a tax on packaging at source to discourage creating unneccessary packaging in the first place. Yet the FoE lobby, which unfortunately Norman Baker pays too much lip service to, actively works against it. Not for the first or last time has the environmental lobby proven to be a hindrance not a help.


  1. I feel rather sad for poor Graham who seems not to do his research properly. He seems to trust government agencies and hasn’t discussed PM2.5s, ultrafines or nanoparticles, or health impacts. Zero emissions are a complete deception for anyone who have looked at the emissions details of a IPPC permit.

    Has he not heard of MBT/AD, MHT or autoclaving or plasma gasification, all alternatives, and combination, that are better than incineration whether EfW or CHP; and tick the boxes. They ae better for emissions, health, cost, the environment and recover and recycle more. Less toxins to land via fly / IBBA or to air via 100+ chemicals, most unmonitored.

    Paper is not difficult to recycle or compost with carbon capture. Plastics are not difficult to separate or scan with IR laser scanning.

    The spurious myth is incinerator is the best, only and least cost alternative against landfil. It isn’t. Incinerators are highly inefficient at producing electricity via wasteful steam boilers and turbines, leading to the phase waste of energy. CHP needs find a heat user, very difficult near cities where most are against it.

    Waste reduction has its place and has its limited in a consumer culture than needs time to habitulise against its natural instinct to throw away. Waste reduction has to be balanced alongside cultural redesign, reuse, recycling and recovery,; otherwise people turnoff and throw away and dispose/ flytip/ backyard burn.

    I would keep a tax on Landfill, but also put a tax on Incineration, giving rewards to recyclers, minimiser and zero wasters. This is`where

  2. Well smart arse, as it happens I have heard of gassification, and I was using energy from waste as shorthand. I probably should have made it clearer, but the post makes it clear that I see it as an alternative to incineration, so where do you get the idea that I’m a fan of incineration?

    18 month comeback. That’s me cussed.

  3. Sorry Graham, I was a little hard on you reading further. Plasma arc gasification is very different from traditional gasification. The former is excellent and used in the States by Veolia and Plasco Energy, the later is not too much better than EfW incineration for emissions, eg Novalis, Daganham. All are different forms of Energy from Waste. Its a pity Incinerators have cuckooed the term EfW. Search Plascos facilities in Los Angeles, Ottawa and Barcelona; this is the cost effective EfW technology way forward for tricky residual, that Veolia and ESCC are blocking out for 30yrs.

    Also the best form of Energy from Waste EfW or Combined Heat and Power in terms of energy efficiency, emissions and sustainability is Anaerobic Digestion (AD), eg Greenfinch, Shopshire, Premier, Durham, for food waste, organics.(Defra).

    With plasma gasification, 0.3% cleaning residue, sailable syngas for fuels/ electricity, 1:5 input :output energy, salt, sulphur and vitrified gravel. No 200ft chimney.

  4. Useful research on the PM2.5 fine particle science and health. There is no safe lower threshold level for PM2.5s. The dirty little secret. CA Pope, 2007





    On incineration, why its a goofy idea, akin to flying a plane with cracks in the wings.

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