Waste to Energy could play Bigger Role in Scotland

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Figures released by Scotland's environment watchdog show that the country is well on the way to meet Zero Waste targets but that waste to energy could play a larger role in the handling of waste.

Statistics from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) for the first quarter in 2010 showed that in total, local authorities in the region recycled or composted over 40% of waste, sent 56% to landfill but only 2.6% for thermal processing.

This compared with yearly results between April 2009 and March 2010, which showed that Scotland landfilled over 60% of waste, recycled over 36% and sent 2.7% to waste to energy facilities.

As part of Scotland's Zero Waste Plan, announced by cabinet secretary Richard Lochhead in June 2010, a 70% recycling target was set for all waste arising in Scotland by 2025.

Leading up until that date, other targets included 50% recycling and composting of household waste by 2013, 60% by 2020 and 70% recycling and preparing for re-use of construction and demolition waste by 2020.

As part of the Zero Waste Plan, the government said an objective would be to replace an existing 25% cap on energy from waste (EfW) with an "approach that requires equivalent treatment standards for all waste streams and sectors, irrespective of which party collects the waste".

It said at the time: "EfW has an important role to play and can make a positive contribution to both renewable energy and climate change targets. However, in order to achieve the high levels of prevention, reuse and recycling outlined in the Zero Waste Plan it is imperative that materials that could be reused or recycled are not directed to mixed waste treatment facilities such as EfW facilities."

While the amount of waste sent for thermal recovery is less than 3% in Scotland, other countries across Europe have demonstrated both high recycling and energy recovery rates.

Figures from Eurostat in 2008 showed the Germany recycles around 65% of its waste, sends 35% to waste to energy and only 1% is sent for landfill.

Meanwhile, the Confederation of Business Industry's recent report, Going to waste: Making the case for energy from waste, showed that Flanders in Belgium has the highest household recycling rate in the EU (72%), with residual waste still sent for energy recovery. The CBI said this highlights that "sustainable waste strategy should include a significant proportion of energy recovery alongside high levels of recycling".

SEPA was unavailable for comment on waste to energy progress in Scotland.

Speaking to Waste Management World magazine, Ella Stengler, managing director of the Confederation of European Waste to Energy Plants (CEWEP), said: "One of the biggest challenges in European Environment policy is the reduction of landfilling. This will help to protect the climate (avoiding methane emissions) and save precious land.

"The countries which have best succeeded in reducing dependence on landfills (Germany and the Netherlands) achieve at the same time very high recycling rates (65% and 59% respectively) and turn the remaining waste into energy in Waste-to-Energy plants (35% and 39% respectively)."

The CEWEP managing director added: "Eurostat data on the treatment of municipal solid waste clearly shows that an integrated approach to waste management combining recycling and Waste to Energy help divert waste from landfills. It is worth bearing in mind that residues from recycling processes often also need to be thermally treated."

Commenting on the increases in recycling, Kenny Boag, SEPA's National Waste Policy Unit Manager, said: "The results for the three months of April, May and June 2010 are encouraging. Less solid waste and biodegradable waste collected by councils went to landfill and the country's recycling rate rose to 40.7%.

"This has increased our rolling year figure from 36.7%, where it was at the end of the last quarter, but although we are coming close to achieving our goal it will be challenging. Scotland has progressed considerably over the last few years, with our recycling rate rising from 17.1% in 2004/05 to where it sits now. But that doesn't mean we can relax, we all need to work together to make achieving this target a reality."

- Two sets of figures are released by SEPA every quarter. There are figures for the three months in question and also a rolling year figure, which takes into account the last four quarters. It is this rolling year figure that is used to assess how close Scotland is to achieving the national target of 40% of our waste being recycled and composted. The next set of figures, covering July, August and September 2010 will be available at the start of 2011.

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