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Volume 688: debated on Wednesday 27 January 2021


Wednesday 27 January 2021


Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Waste incinerator on Portland

The petition of residents of the constituency of South Dorset,

Declares that the proposal to build a waste incinerator on Portland should not go ahead and that the Government should review its support for incinerators more generally; notes that almost 7,000 people have signed a corresponding online petition to stop the waste incinerator; further declares that South Dorset is a beautiful part of the world and that it should remain a healthy place for our children, grandchildren and ourselves; further that research has shown that a waste incinerator will cause the release of tiny dangerous particles into the air; further that a waste incinerator will cause a small increase in health risks for children; further that it will bring more lorries thundering along already busy roads; further that there is a possible need for the incinerator to be “fed” in the future by waste imported from outside the UK; further that it will create a big, unsightly blot on our beautiful landscape and coast; further that it will discourage recycling; and further that it will not create many jobs for local residents.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urge the Government to rethink its support for incinerators and look towards a greener, circular economy.

And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Richard Drax, Official Report, 8 December 2020; Vol. 685, c. 804.]


Observations from the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (George Eustice):

Thank you very much for sharing the petition of residents of the constituency of South Dorset regarding a proposal to build a waste incinerator on Portland, South Dorset.

The Government’s Resources and Waste Strategy (RWS), published in 2018, set out plans to preserve material resources by minimising waste, promoting resource efficiency and moving towards a circular economy. The RWS includes the Government’s approach to energy from waste (EfW).

A key principle of the RWS is to prevent waste occurring in the first place. This is in keeping with the waste hierarchy, which ranks options for waste management according to their environmental impact. Where waste does occur, it needs to be managed in the most resource-efficient way possible while minimising environmental harm. After waste prevention, priority goes to preparing waste for reuse, recycling and then recovery. Disposal, for example in landfill, is regarded as the worst option.

Through the landmark Environment Bill, the Government are taking the powers necessary to deliver on many of the commitments in the RWS, such as introducing a deposit return scheme, reforming the UK packaging producer responsibility system, and introducing greater consistency in recycling collections in England. These measures are aimed at reducing waste and increasing recycling rates—with a 65% municipal waste recycling target by 2035.

However, even after achieving higher recycling rates, there will still be some residual waste to deal with that cannot be recycled or reused because, for example, it is contaminated or there are no end markets for the material. This residual waste is generally dealt with in three main ways: landfill, incineration with energy recovery (i.e. EfW) or exported as refuse derived fuel.

For most residual waste, EfW is generally considered the best management option, in terms of environmental impact and getting value from the waste as a resource. EfW does therefore play an important role in diverting waste from landfill. Nevertheless, the Government are very clear that EfW should not compete with greater waste prevention, reuse or recycling.

In relation to decisions on new EfW plants, established planning and permitting processes should be followed. Determining planning applications is a matter for the relevant local planning authority. Development proposals should be determined in accordance with the development plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise. It is for the planning authority to take material planning considerations into account. This includes the assessment of the impact of traffic generated by this type of proposed development, along with all other relevant considerations.

Planning applications for waste management facilities of this type are often subject to an Environmental Impact Assessment (under The Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2017 EIA Regulations), which means that the planning application is accompanied by an Environmental Statement that addresses a range of environmental factors.

In terms of permitting, all EfW plants in England are regulated by the Environment Agency (EA) and must comply with the strict emissions limits set out in legislation. Each permit application is assessed to ensure that the proposed plant will use the best available techniques (BAT) to minimise emissions, and that it will not have a significant effect on local air quality.

Permits contain limits for a number of pollutants, including total particulate matter (TPM) which includes particulates of all sizes, including PM2.5 and smaller. The EA will not issue a permit if the plant could have a significant effect on the environment or human health.

The EA consults Public Health England (PHE) on every permit application it receives. PHE’s position is that modern, well run and regulated municipal waste incinerators are not a significant risk to public health. While it is not possible to rule out adverse health effects from these incinerators completely, any potential effect for people living close by is likely to be very small. This view is based on detailed assessments of the effects of air pollutants on health and on the fact that waste incinerators make only a very small contribution to local concentrations of air pollutants.

Once operational, EfW plants are closely regulated through a programme of regular inspections and audits carried out by the EA, who also carefully check the results of the continuous air emissions monitoring which all plants must do to meet the conditions of their environmental permit.

In 2019, the Government’s Clean Air Strategy (CAS) set out new and ambitious goals, legislation, investment and policies to improve air quality faster and more effectively. The Environment Bill delivers key parts of the CAS by establishing a duty to set a target on PM2.5, alongside a long-term target on air quality, as part of the wider framework for setting legally binding environmental targets.

In summary, EfW has its place in managing residual waste as part of a holistic waste management system delivering value from waste as a resource—but only where that waste cannot be reused or recycled. However, the Government are committed to closely monitoring EfW capacity as they take action to continue the shift away from a take, make, use, throw system to a greener, more circular economy.