Neighbouring governments give cold shoulder to incinerators

The future of waste is hugely exciting.

New innovations – utilising today’s technology including lasers and robotics – combined with a swing in government thinking toward more sustainable policy and a savvy investor community which has its eye on the environment, has already allowed the industry to sharply increase the amount of waste we recycle. As such, waste – once considered an inevitable problem in a modern society – is now being viewed as a valuable commodity. Of course, in any fast-developing sector, there are leaders and there are laggards; so it is in waste.

Wales easily falls into the first category for taking bold decisions in an effort to become a zero-waste and carbon net-zero nation by 2050. To reach that aim it launched its Beyond Recycling strategy earlier this year in which it announced an immediate moratorium on new large-scale energy-from-waste plants in the country.

In announcing the measure it said: “Last year, Wales achieved its highest-ever recycling rate, at over 65% – and has set out ambitions to become the world leader. As a result, the need to burn waste, or send it to landfill, will reduce.”

The Welsh government realised that energy-from-waste incinerators – which essentially burn household waste to produce electricity – are in fact an outdated way of dealing with waste which aren’t able to operate efficiently in the UK and Ireland. True to its word, it rejected a planning application for a 200,000 tonnes-per-year plant near Cardiff earlier this month.

Further north, the Scottish government is thinking along the same lines when it comes to energy-from-waste. It has told local authorities to inform it of any current or new planning applications for energy-from-waste plants while it considers also implementing a moratorium on their construction. Like Wales, Scotland has also set itself ambitious recycling targets, including recycling 70% of waste by 2025, a figure which won’t be reached by building more energy-from-waste plants.

While dressed up by some as draconian measures, neither Scotland or Wales are outliers in the race to reduce carbon emissions to create a greener future for the next generation. If anything, they are slightly ahead of the curve and other jurisdictions will follow suit in due course.

The Northern Ireland Executive certainly has more reason than most to take heed of the actions in Edinburgh and Cardiff. They are faced with a proposed waste incinerator in Mallusk by arc21, which the actions of Wales and Scotland show would be a retrograde step for our waste sector, for our country and for our children. Fortunately, they not only have the example of two neighbouring countries to support a decision to block the proposed incinerator plant, they can also take comfort from the fact Northern Ireland has ample capacity and ambition to deal with our waste now and in the future.

Companies such as Re-Gen Waste have proven that Northern Ireland’s waste can be a valuable commodity, one which provides processes to reuse and recycle materials and which is not constantly calling on earth’s resources for new virgin materials. Today we recycle as much as we possibly can. In the future changes to packaging rules and the continuing innovation in the waste processing sector will allow most of our waste to be recycled.

Just think of that.

A future where all our waste is recycled by a cutting-edge industry redefining the meaning of the term ‘waste’. Or think of one centred on a giant incinerator fed by a supply of indiscriminate mixed waste, some of which will need to be imported from other countries to satiate its enormous appetite. In offering this as a solution, the proposers are finding an answer from the past, not working toward the future.

It’s clear which offers a cleaner, greener future for our environment, our children and their children. The Scottish and Welsh governments have made their choice. Let’s hope the Northern Ireland Executive follows suit and unburdens this forward thinking industry to fulfil the exciting potential it can provide.