Waste sector statistics extinguish need for Mallusk incinerator

By Joseph Doherty, Managing Director of Re-Gen Waste

It is hard to argue with cold, hard facts.

The Northern Ireland municipal waste management statistics lay out the waste flow data as collected by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs.

They provide a fascinating insight into the volume of waste collected by our local authorities, divided into that which goes for reuse, for dry recycling, for composting, for energy recovery and the tonnage sent to landfill.

There are lots of statistics to digest. The big takeaway for anyone interested in preserving our environment for the next generation is that Northern Ireland needs to focus on increasing recycling and not burning it in arc21’s proposed waste incinerator.

The recycling point first.

The latest set of data shows Northern Ireland recycled 50% of its waste last year. That’s good, especially compared to 10 years ago, but Covid-19 has seen a fall back in the last year by just over 1% and is well below the Executive’s target of 65% recycling by 2035.

Waste sent to landfill was 22.8% while waste collected by councils sent for energy recovery in heat and power plants stood at 25%. The volume sent to landfill falls well short of the Executive’s target – to reduce waste to landfill by 2035 to 10% and to reach energy recovery rates of 25%.

As the energy recovery figure has already been reached with current waste-to-energy capacity in Northern Ireland and the export of non-recyclable waste to highly efficient plants in Sweden and other countries which have district heating systems, it is clear we need no further energy recovery facilities to burn our waste.

For Northern Ireland to reach its waste targets by 2035, the reduction in landfill to 10% will need to be countered by an increase in recycling rates to 65%.

That is great news for our sustainability credentials as recycling is by far the most environmentally friendly way of dealing with waste.

In truth, the recycling target is eminently achievable but must not be discouraged by providing the lazy option of incineration. We have companies here which are developing processes with the latest technology to recycle more. We must not discourage them by taking away their feedstock and simply burning it. Today’s plans will affect tomorrow’s generations, let us encourage innovative approaches to recycle more, not resort to the old solutions of dumping or burning.

Recycling is also great news for Northern Ireland’s public purse as it means we have no need for the arc21 waste incinerator proposed for Mallusk which will cost £240 million. Not only do we not need to invest in such antiquated technology proposed in the plan, but its development would also distort the Executive’s own target for energy recovery from waste which is already at its target for 2035 of 25%.

The facts speak for themselves – for the Executive to have a fighting chance to reach its own targets, it needs to block the development of the proposed incinerator. Northern Ireland must avoid taking a backward step when it comes to climate change.

Recycling is the obvious answer and companies such as Re-Gen Waste are already in the process of helping Northern Ireland reach that 65% target and have the capacity, the ingenuity and the knowhow to surpass it. The recycling industry is looking forward to tomorrow’s innovations not backwards at yesterday’s solutions.

Northern Ireland has the potential to be a global leader in the waste sector but those in the industry, such as Re-Gen, need the Executive to remove the threat of the Mallusk incinerator so we can put all our efforts into increasing recycling rates. We need to provide constructive, not destructive, solutions for our waste.

The cold, hard facts speak for themselves.