Local Government Waste Incineration and Climate Change

Clackmannanshire UNISON branch are very concerned by 11 (1) new incinerators under construction in Scotland, 2 of which are located in our neighbouring authorities Fife, near Loch Leven (2) and Falkirk, Grangemouth (3).


There is a marked increase in the public awareness and concern of the catastrophic consequences of Climate Change and the damage it will do to our planet. Children across the world have engaged in strike action in order to highlight their concerns and according to recent polls two thirds of the UK population now agree that the planet is in a climate emergency and it is worth noting that the Scottish Government has recently declared a Climate Emergency (4).

It was somewhat surprising to discover that over the course of the last eight years the Scottish Government has embarked upon a direction of travel to market waste as a means to meet the renewable energy generation targets through burning methane and incinerating landfill. While burning methane may be a reasonable Climate Change strategy, waste incineration is not and it should not be called ‘Green’ or ‘Renewable Energy’ as it produces more Carbon Dioxide and air pollution when compared to burning fossil fuels. In addition Clackmannanshire UNISON believes that a reduction in funding to Councils has resulted in a direct reduction in recycling for items like glass and garden waste.

Climate Change (Scotland Act) 2009 (5) places a duty on local authorities to contribute to the delivery of emissions reduction targets. As local authorities are moving towards the incineration of waste regardless it would appear that this act is merely an inconvenience which can be disregarded. Nordic block countries who were among the first to use incinerators are now being encouraged by Zero Waste Europe (6) to reduce or stop the use of incinerators.

Climate Change (Scotland Act) 2009[1] places a duty on local authorities to contribute to the delivery of emissions reduction targets. As local authorities are moving towards the incineration of waste regardless, it would appear that this act is merely an inconvenience which can be disregarded. Countries in the Nordic Block who are considered leaders in developed waste have an over reliance on incineration which has prevented them from meeting their climate change targets and Zero Waste Europe[2] is urging them to reduce or stop their use of incinerators.

[1] http://www.legislation.gov.uk/asp/2009/12/contents

[2] https://zerowasteeurope.eu/2019/08/nordic-countries-have-to-steer-away-from-incineration/

It is claimed that incineration is a smart way to create energy and dispose of waste at the same time, however as the process releases large amounts of Carbon Dioxide research has shown that this if far from a smart solution. Not only is incineration less desirable than recycling in terms of energy efficiency, profitability, job creation and flexibility, it also discourages efforts to recycle which retains valuable resources.

Incinerators are expensive to build, and to repay the investment they need to guarantee a waste stream which is mainly from Local Authorities. This acts as a disincentive for Local Authorities to enhance separate collection and recycling. As a result, it is typical for Local Authorities that utilise incineration to have lower recycling rates. It was also found in the UK that 51,400 jobs could be created by recycling 70% of waste collected by local authorities, 4700 of these jobs would be in Scotland.(7)

All of this begs the question why the Scottish Government thinks incinerating waste and releasing additional carbon into the atmosphere is a good idea.

Many Local Authorities have recently been discussing the potential to move to incinerating waste for electricity generation as a way of meeting their commitments to reduce using traditional landfill methods.

It is our opinion that it would be grossly irresponsible to move forward with a waste disposal method that increases Carbon Dioxide levels and accelerates Climate Change and if Local Authorities agree long term contracts to feed these incinerators they will be tied into their use for the foreseeable future. We fully understand that all Local Authorities now have a duty to phase out waste in landfill however we should be investing in processes and technologies which maximise recycling to reduce our carbon footprint rather than investing in outdated technology that will pollute our air with something which is almost worse than coal fired power stations.

Clackmannanshire UNISON branch are campaigning to oppose the incineration of waste and adopt an action plan that promotes a Circular Economy for Waste. The EU promotes a Circular Economy for waste (8) as too much waste is burnt in Europe. More than 80 million tons of waste is burnt in Europe every year and now Scotland is joining this outdated bandwagon with 11 new incinerators. Incinerators are incompatible with the aim of moving to Circular Economy’ e.g. where waste is prevented and products reused or recycled. The use of Incinerators to dispose of waste is also incompatible with anyone that seriously believes that we are in a climate emergency and must take action.

Clackmannanshire UNISON branch will be lobbying the Scottish Parliament to provide appropriate investment and encouragement to Local Authorities to deliver more environmentally friendly waste and recycling services that protect the planet and its limited resources.

(1) https://theferret.scot/waste-incinerators-scotland-health-recycling/
(2) https://www.heraldscotland.com/news/16833231.families-up-in-arms-over-incinerator-plan/
(4) https://www.gov.scot/publications/global-climate-emergency-scotlands-response-climate-changesecretary-roseanna-cunninghams-statement/
(5) http://www.legislation.gov.uk/asp/2009/12/contents
(6) https://zerowasteeurope.eu/2019/08/nordic-countries-have-to-steer-away-from-incineration/
(7) guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 14 September 2010. The report can be accessed at, http://www.foe.co.uk/resource/reports/jobs_recycling.pdf
(8) https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A52015DC0614