There are serious environmental concerns around the continued burning of waste which also creates a barrier to moving to a circular economy in Scotland.

What is incineration?

Incinerators burn rubbish from households, businesses and industry. When the waste is burned greenhouse gases and harmful chemicals are released into the atmosphere and toxic ash that needs to be disposed of in a landfill. 

Incinerators market themselves as ‘energy-from-waste’ plants meaning that they are designed to produce electricity or produce heat as a by-product of burning waste. This is not a form of renewable energy as waste is not a renewable resource and focusing on these types of plants diverts opportunities away from real renewable energy solutions. Even ‘energy-from-waste’ plants still burn waste, and the problem with using waste as a fuel means it creates a never-ending demand for waste as the feedstock. 

Scotland’s incineration capacity is increasing 

In 2020, the total quantity of waste incinerated in Scotland was 1.26 million tonnes. In ten years, incineration in Scotland has more than doubled. Incinerated household and similar waste alone has tripled during this same period. Scotland is now burning almost as much household waste as it sends to landfill.

Under the Waste (Scotland) Regulations 2012, a ban on sending biodegradable municipal waste (BMW) to landfill is due to be introduced in 2025. There is a growing concern local authorities see incineration as the solution. Scotland currently has six working incinerators but there are plans for a further six incinerators to start operating soon. There are at least a further four plants under consideration.

At the same time that incineration rates are rising, recycling rates are falling. At 42% Scotland now has the worst household recycling rates in the UK. The Scottish Government blames the pandemic and Brexit for this poor performance but Wales continues to increase its recycling rates despite these challenges. If the amount of waste burnt continues to rise, Scottish recycling rates cannot improve. The BMW ban may have succeeded in diverting waste from landfill but rather than recycling the waste, it is being incinerated instead, replacing one environmental crisis with another.

We’re calling for a moratorium on building new incinerators

Friends of the Earth Scotland does not believe that any incinerators, including energy-from-waste plants, should be used as an alternative to reducing and recycling waste. Any new incinerator that is built in Scotland now will lock us into years of wasting resources and environmental damage. Incinerators also create a barrier to moving to a circular economy as there is a demand for waste that could be reused, recycling or remanufactured, all of which is critical if we are to limit our reliance on the planet’s resources and tackle the climate crisis. 

A temporary moratorium on new incinerators has been put in place by the Scottish Government as it awaits the results of an independent review of incineration capacity in Scotland. Friends of the Earth Scotland is urging the Scottish Government and MSPs to support a permanent moratorium on new incinerators in Scotland for three main reasons: incineration wastes valuable resources, incineration pollutes and incineration is bad for climate change.

As well as drawing a line under new incineration, we must also seek to reduce the impact of existing incinerators. A tax on incineration will mean an unnecessary cost will be passed on to local authorities. Instead, a ban on burning plastics should be introduced by the Scottish Government. This would be quicker and more effective to implement than a tax. It would align with other policies, such as the Deposit Return Scheme and extended producer responsibility, creating an integrated system which minimises the use of plastic at every opportunity.

For more information on incineration you can read our incineration briefing. If you worried about an incineration proposal in your area and want some advice, then contact our Circular Economy Campaigner Kim Pratt – kpratt@foe.scot