MPs call for incineration tax in Commons debate
MPs from across the House of Commons have expressed support for an incineration tax and a halt to new investment in energy-from-waste (EfW) facilities in a parliamentary debate on Tuesday (11 February).
The debate in Westminster Hall was brought by Shadow Minister for Public Health Sharon Hodgson, Labour MP for Washington and Sunderland West, who voiced her opposition to the building of a new energy-from-waste (EfW) facility in her constituency, at Hilthorn Park in Washington, over environmental and public health concerns.
In light of flatlining recycling rates and citing data from the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) Cymru revealing that 75 per cent of commercial and industrial waste sent to incineration or landfill in Wales is recyclable, Hodgson called for incineration to be taxed in the same way that waste sent to landfill is, saying: “Surely it is counter-productive to have a landfill tax to deter burying plastic, which causes no CO2, but not to have an incineration tax for incinerating plastic, which causes masses of CO2."
Hodgson remarked upon the scale of local opposition to the Hilthorn Park facility, where 10,800 of her constituents have signed a petition against its construction, saying: “In my 15 years of being an MP, no other issue has galvanised so many people and brought them together against something in the way this issue has.
“Such a technology that is expected to release millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide during the anticipated lifetime of the gasification facility should not be backed by government.”
Dr Alan Whitehead, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Energy and Climate Change, backed Hodgson’s statements, arguing that “the age of incinerators is over”, noting that as the amount of waste being sent to landfill has fallen, so the amount of waste sent to energy recovery has increased, adding that further investment in incinerator will “prevent us from moving up the waste hierarchy in dealing with our waste generally, and in looking at it as a resource to be recycled, reused and put back into the circular economy”.
Support for an incineration tax emerged from MPs from parties across the House of Commons, with Conservative MP Caroline Noakes stating that she “also supports the idea of an incineration tax” as it “would ensure that we do not divert all our waste [from landfill] to incinerators”.
Concerns were also expressed over the environmental and public health impact of incinerators. Conservative MP Jan Hunt, cited research stating that PM2.5, particulate matter emitted by incinerators, were dangerous to public health due to potential lung damage, concluding that “it is clear that a moratorium should be placed on the building of new incinerators.”
Meanwhile, Labour MP Kate Osamor argued for “an immediate pause and review” of the construction of a new EfW plant in Edmonton in her constituency, claiming that the new incinerator is set to emit more than 700,000 tonnes of CO2 every year and that particulate matter produced damages the lungs of children.
In response, Rebecca Pow, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, explained that the government’s Resources and Waste Strategy said it would consider such a tax if it felt that long-term ambitions to maximise the amount of waste sent for recycling are not met.
Pow added: “On taxing incinerators… if the wider policies set out in the Resources and Waste Strategy do not deliver our waste ambitions, as laid out in the Environment Bill and the strategy, including higher recycling rates, the government outlined in the 2018 Budget that we will consider introducing a tax on the incineration of waste, operating in conjunction with the landfill tax and taking account of the possible impact on local authorities.”
‘No future in the circular economy’
The UK Without Incineration Network (UKWIN) has been at the forefront of the debate against EfW, launching its ‘Bin the Burners’ campaign in November 2017 to galvanise grassroots support for a moratorium on the construction of new incinerators.
Seeking to raise awareness of the environmental impact of EfW, a UKWIN report has stated that the UK’s 42 incinerators released a combined total of nearly 11 million tonnes of CO2 last year, resulting in an ‘unpaid cost to society’ of around £325 million. Further research from UKWIN has claimed that harmful emissions from incinerators, including harmful particulate matter (PM) and nitrous oxide (NO), are going unreported and pose significant public health risks – although a study carried out by Imperial College London found ‘no conclusive links’ between incinerators and negative health impacts in newborn children.
Commenting on Tuesday’s debate, Shlomo Dowen, National Coordinator of UKWIN said: “It is wonderful to see the emerging consensus amongst the MPs that incineration has no future in the circular economy, and that incineration is harming recycling and worsening climate change, meaning incineration should be taxed.
“I was disappointed that the government has still not committed to a date by which such an incineration tax would be introduced, and I remain hopeful that government will find ways to fulfil their stated ambition of reducing material sent for incineration.”
UKWIN is not alone in its opposition to EfW – in January 2018, Professor Ian Boyd, former Chief Scientific Advisor to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) warned that further investment in incineration could hinder developments in recycling.
The EU has recently called for EfW to be minimised, excluding incineration from a list of activities that advance climate change mitigation following the publication of an open letter from a group of NGOs asking the EU to keep incineration out of the scope of green finance.
You can read the transcript of Tuesday’s debate on the Parliament website.