Scotland is now burning almost as much of its household waste as it is sending to landfill. Household waste statistics published yesterday (7 December) show a 33.6% increase in waste being incinerated between 2019 and 2020 – that’s an extra 152,000 tonnes burnt in one year. Environmental campaigners have said this is a concerning development.

Incinerators contribute to climate change by emitting greenhouse gases from the waste they burn. They also make it more difficult to ensure potentially recyclable material is not wasted instead, which means valuable resources are sent up in smoke. The impact of burning plastic is particularly damaging to the planet.

Last month, the Scottish Government announced a moratorium on new incinerators while it conducts a review into the practice and its place in dealing with waste in Scotland.

Household recycling rates have fallen by 2.9% to 42.0%, with 66,000 tonnes less material recycled than in 2019. This is the worst result since 2013, which could be due to the impacts of COVID-19.

Kim Pratt, circular economy campaigner at Friends of the Earth Scotland said: “It is evident from the new data that Scotland has a huge incineration problem, which is currently increasing unchecked. This is unacceptable because burning waste contributes directly to climate change and valuable materials are lost to our economy.

“This rapid rise in incineration must be stopped. The independent review currently being conducted into incineration must provide the Scottish Government with an exit strategy from incineration. Unless Scotland can keep materials cycling round the economy rather than burning them, we have no hope of achieving a circular economy and reducing the environmental impact of our waste.”

A report published this year by Zero Waste Scotland showed that each tonne of household waste burnt emits 246 kg of greenhouse gases, which is only slightly lower than the emissions from sending the same waste to landfill (337 kgCO2e).

SEPA household waste data: ​​https://www.sepa.org.uk/environment/waste/waste-data/waste-data-reporting/household-waste-data/

Zero Waste Scotland carbon impact of incineration report: https://foe-scotland.us2.list-manage.com/track/click?u=b5ad0d61b2a67d22c68bf7d8d&id=224a802ddf&e=8be1b196bb

FoES briefing on incineration: https://foe-scotland.us2.list-manage.com/track/click?u=b5ad0d61b2a67d22c68bf7d8d&id=47377d8a34&e=8be1b196bb

Friends of the Earth Scotland is:
* Scotland’s leading environmental campaigning organisation
* An independent Scottish charity with a network of thousands of supporters and active local groups across Scotland
* Part of the largest grassroots environmental network in the world, uniting over 2 million supporters, 73 national member groups, and 5,000 local activist groups.