Scottish incineration review: All recommendations approved

The Scottish Government has responded to the independent review it commissioned on the role of incineration within the waste hierarchy. Circular Economy Minister Lorna Slater MSP set out the actions that the Government will take to deliver on the review’s recommendations in a statement to the Scottish Parliament yesterday (16 June).

Scotland flagIn her Ministerial Statement, she confirmed that the Scottish Government has accepted all 12 recommendations, including Dr Church’s recommendation that no further planning permissions for incineration facilities should be granted.

Addressing the Scottish Parliament, the Minister said “Many of these recommendations are also relevant for local authorities and the wider waste industry. I would encourage local authorities and industry to consider what actions they will take and how they could work with us to respond to relevant recommendations.”

She continued: “In relation to the incineration capacity that we need in Scotland, Dr Church found that there is likely to be a temporary under-capacity of residual waste treatment in Scotland in 2025, when the ban on landfilling biodegradable municipal waste comes into force. However,

Scotland faces a real risk of overcapacity by 2027, if all of the incineration plants that have planning permission are built to schedule.

“We accept that the risk of overcapacity is real and unpalatable and that further action is required. That is why we will work within the existing statutory framework to set out clearly to the Scottish Government does not support the development of further municipal waste incineration capacity in Scotland, with very limited exceptions.”

New national planning policy will be introduced through National Planning Framework 4, which will be presented to the Scottish Parliament for approval later this year.

This policy, the Government says, will make clear that it does not support the development of further municipal waste incineration capacity in Scotland, with very limited exceptions.

Until then, a notification direction will remain in place, requiring local authorities to alert Scottish Ministers of new planning applications that involve incineration facilities. Such a direction was previously used to give the effect of a moratorium on Unconventional Oil and Gas in Scotland.

The minister added: “There will of course be some very limited exceptions to this. The review highlights the challenges that rural and island communities face in dealing with their residual waste, and we will continue to support all local authorities and making the most appropriate provisions for the landfill ban.”

The independent review

The review, written by Dr Colin Church, found incineration’s current position in the waste hierarchy – ‘preferable to other forms of residual waste treatment, but less desirable than reducing and recycling waste’ – to be correct.

Recommendations urged the Scottish Government to ‘limit the granting of further planning permissions for incineration infrastructure’, with an ‘indicative cap’ to be developed for Scotland’s residual waste treatment needs. This would decline ‘as Scotland transitions towards a fully circular economy.’

The review found that, currently, incineration is less damaging to the environment than landfill. However, ‘increased incineration, changes to waste composition and wider decarbonisation’ will over time make this opinion ‘less favourable’. To monitor this change, the Review recommends separate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reports on incineration.

Separate work has since been commissioned to inform further decarbonisation opportunities in residual waste treatment infrastructure, with the main focus on waste incineration. Church is expected to remain in his role as independent chair, and will be holding additional stakeholder engagement sessions for the work.

While this is carried out, the review ‘provisionally’ recommended improving pre-treatment processes before incineration, focusing on plastics. The review also ‘provisionally’ recommended that ‘combined heat and power should be pursued for as many incineration facilities as possible.’

“Taking action to create a circular economy”

In a press statement, Slater said: “Reducing waste and recycling what we do produce is key to tackling the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity and ensuring we all enjoy a healthy environment. That’s why we are taking action to create a circular economy, in which materials are kept in use for as long as possible and precious natural resources are not wasted.

“We also need to make sure we manage unavoidable and unrecyclable waste in the short term. By putting in place sensible measures to limit and gradually reduce Scotland’s incineration capacity, we can make sure we can manage our waste today, while ensuring our future waste infrastructure aligns with our climate targets.

“I look forward to working with local authorities and industry to take forward these recommendations.”