Scottish review calls for end to plastic incineration

An independent review into the decarbonisation of Scotland’s residual waste infrastructure has recommended an end to plastics incineration.

The second report into the role of incineration in the country’s waste hierarchy, chaired by former Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) chief executive Colin Church, said that keeping plastics out of incinerators was key to meeting climate targets.

“Incineration remains a more climate-friendly method of managing residual waste than traditional landfill, and more practical than any other currently available approach,” he said. “However, without further action, this advantage will erode over a relatively short time.”

Church’s first report, released in May last year, led to the Scottish Government’s decision to ban new energy-from-waste (EfW) plants in the country, noting that an excess in infrastructure capacity was likely.

Wales had introduced a moratorium on new EfW plants above 10MW in 2021 but calls for similar measures in England have been rejected by the Government.

The review’s second Stop, Sort, Burn, Bury? report, released today, examined ways in which the impact of incineration could be reduced as Scotland transitions to a more circular economy.

In addition to an end to plastic incineration by 2030, it also recommended reducing plastic production and use, and promoting segregation of plastic and its removal from black bag waste. Modelling provided by Eunomia showed that advanced sorting could cut direct emissions in half.

The review identified carbon capture and storage as among the most feasible options for decarbonising the sector, as well as using heat from incinerators to heat homes and businesses where possible.

Schemes in England and Wales have sought to encourage integration of EfW plants with district heat networks, which is a more common practice in Europe.

Noting that heat networks can be “expensive and controversial to construct”, and should not be used as a reason to build an incinerator, the report said their role can still be beneficial for existing facilities.

It also proposed that emissions reporting from incineration should be changed, having found that many emissions are not actually attributed to the waste sector, leading to “perverse incentives” for decision-makers.

It found no evidence that biostabilisation of biodegradable waste was likely to be a major solution for Scotland and it also called for a reduction in plastic exports. By DANIEL BOSLEY