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Friends of the Earth hit out at major waste companies for claiming that incineration produces "green" and "renewable" energy' [1], after new research, published today, shows that a standard British waste to energy incinerator produces more carbon dioxide from fossil fuels (such as plastics in rubbish) than a gas-fired power station. The environmental organisation will today present to MPs the results of a detailed study [2] into the climate pollution from incinerators.

The independent study, conducted for Friends of the Earth, shows that:

  • waste incinerators that generate electricity emit a third more greenhouse gases for the electricity they produce than gas fired power stations [3].

  • The situation will get worse in the future, as power generation from gas (and even coal) becomes more efficient, whilst carbon dioxide emissions from incinerators are predicted to increase due to a higher percentage of fossil-fuel containing plastics in the waste they burn.

The study also shows that the UK could invest in a real renewable energy-from-waste technology, anaerobic digestion, which takes kitchen and commercial food waste and converts it into methane that can then be burnt. The resulting residue can then be used as compost.

Friends of the Earth's Senior Waste Campaigner, Dr Michael Warhurst said:

"The Government and waste industry must stop peddling the myth that waste incineration is green energy. Incinerators can generate electricity, but they produce more climate emissions than a gas-fired power station.The Government must make it clear that they will not support the building of such polluting plants. Using these incinerators to produce energy will undermine Government attempts to tackle climate change. Ministers must back truly renewable energy sources instead."

UK carbon dioxide emissions have risen under Labour. The Government must back calls for a new law committing successive UK governments to annual reductions in carbon dioxide. The call, which is part of The Big Ask climate campaign, is supported by 75 per cent of the population and most MPs.

The Government is currently reviewing its new waste strategy [4]. One of the strategies core principles is to "reduce the impact of waste on climate change." Despite this, the consultation document does not even mention anaerobic digestion, and instead focuses on incineration.


[1] The following statements were found in incinerator company literature and web sites:

Onyx (part of Veolia) (when describing their electricity-only incinerators): "Energy recovery can make an important contribution towards sustainable development as a source of renewable energy…"

SITA (when describing their electricity-only incinerators): "National policy recognises energy-from-waste (EfW) as an integral part of the waste solution for the UK, and as an important source of green energy."

WRG: "Waste which is not recycled will be converted into Green Energy".
Quote from their literature relating to their plan to build a waste incinerator (generating electricity only) in Hull. "Waste Management News Salt End Planning Information Issue 2", WRG, 2005

[2] Full Report "A changing climate for energy from waste? (PDF)", written by Eunomia Consulting

Briefing: "Dirty truths: incineration and climate change" (PDF)

A map of where current incinerators are in England and a list of where incinerators are being planned is available.

[3] The study shows that, currently, electricity-only incinerators produce 33 per cent more fossil fuel derived CO2 per unit energy generated than a gas fired power station. By 2020, with increases in recycling and improved technology, these incinerators will be almost as polluting in terms of CO2 emissions as new or refitted coal fired power stations, and 78 per cent worse than new gas power stations.

[4] "Review of England's Waste Strategy: A consultation Document", UK Government, February 2006. (PDF)

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Published by Friends of the Earth Trust