BAN Waste Select Committee evidence

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Phase 1 Day 7 2001-10-22 Mr John Thistlewod (Environment and Capital Projects Manager, SITA)

written evidence submitted in advance


This presentation discusses the role of energy from waste within an integrated waste management strategy and the benefits that it can provide as a complementary activity alongside other options such as reduction, reuse, recycling and disposal to landfill.

Waste Production

The average home produces about 1 tonne of waste each year, amounting to about 27 million tonnes throughout the UK, and this is growing at 3% per year according to current estimates.

Over 80% of household waste is landfilled, but new European Directives mean that this situation cannot continue and the country has to take a more sustainable approach to waste management.

Waste Disposal Options

There are differing views on the methods of collection, treatment and disposal that should be adopted. There is general agreement that landfill of wastes at current levels is not a sustainable option for the long term. Waste Disposal Authorities will need to develop a range of facilities and specific initiatives in order to achieve the prescribed diversion and recycling targets.

Authorities must maintain continuity of waste disposal arrangements through the effective use of existing facilities and the development of new facilities that meet regulatory standards for best practice. Waste Disposal Authorities are also charged with the responsibility of demonstrating that 'Best Value' is achieved in the provision of a waste management service.

The main options available are:

and use of natural resources is often the most effective environmental option, although there is still likely to be a need to expand disposal facilities to meet future demands.
different purposes, although there are technical constraints to the number of times re-use is possible.
recycling, composting or energy recovery through incineration or other technologies.
options is appropriate. If biodegradable waste is landfilled, energy recovery through methane capture should be considered.

The Energy from Waste option includes:

  1. the collection and burning of landfill gas (methane) to produce
power, typically of the order of 1-2 MW from a gas producing site.
  1. the thermal treatment of municipal solid waste (MSW) to produce
power (electricity), process steam or a combination of heat and power.

Alternative technologies

Alternative technologies for the recovery of energy, and the issues associated with them are listed below:

processed and can only deal with the organic fraction, which is about 30% of the waste. There are no plants in commercial operation in the UK.
build and operate plants in Europe but they have encountered serious technical and operational problems. There are currently no plants in commercial operation in Europe or the UK.
plants in commercial operation in Europe and the UK. Fluidised bed incineration requires the waste to be pre-processed which has led to technical and reliability problems for these plants.
deal with all incoming waste without pre-processing and is reliable and efficient. This is a proven technology with over 1000 plants operating worldwide, including 12 in the UK.

Benefits of Energy from Waste

The benefits to be derived from including energy from waste in any waste management strategy can perhaps be illustrated by SITA's experience in the operation of the Teesside Energy from Waste plant.

Commissioned in 1998, the plant accepts 250,000 tpa MSW from the four Teesside councils, and North Tyneside. The heat recovered from burning the waste is used to raise steam which in turn drives a turbine generator to produce a constant 20 MW of electricity which is distributed to the grid. This is equivalent to the domestic heat and power requirements of 40,000 homes. Further value is obtained by extracting ferrous and non-ferrous metals from the bottom ash residual and sending it for recycling. The bottom ash itself, about 25% of the original waste is weathered and graded and used as a secondary aggregate, for instance in road building applications.


Energy from waste processes are highly regulated and apart from small capacity facilities, they operate under Authorisations issued by the Environment Agency (EA) in England and Wales or the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) in Scotland. All new plants will have to obtain an authorisation under the Integrated Pollution and Prevention Control regulations before they are allowed to operate. A new European Directive on the incineration of waste* sets stringent operational conditons, technical requirements and emission limit values. This Directive applies to new plants from 28 December 2002 and existing plants from 28 December 2005.

* Directive 2000/76/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 4 December 2000 on the incineration of waste.

Health Impacts

There is a great deal of discussion concerning health impacts of emissions from energy from waste processes. A great deal of research has been undertaken, much of it conflicting and some of it out of date in relation to the current position.

Modern energy from waste plants have to operate within the context of ever decreasing emission limits and stringent operating conditions.

As an example dioxins are thought to be harmful to health, however a modern EfW plant burning 250,000 tonnes of waste each year would have to run for 100 years to produce the same amount of dioxins that were produced by fireworks on Millennium Eve in London.

European Experience

It is worth noting that many European countries with high environmental standards combine high levels of recycling with high levels of energy from waste.