Government to use RCEP report in new push for incineration

The Government appears poised to invoke the favourable assessment of incineration by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP) to give the technique a push as part of its recycling strategy for municipal waste.

Published in May, the RCEP's report concluded that there are no health risks worth worrying about from modern, well regulated incinerators, and recommended a series of steps to boost municipal waste incineration at the expense of landfill, with its higher emissions of greenhouse gases (ENDS Report 220, pp 13-15 ).

Environmental groups have criticised the report for taking an unduly sceptical approach to the potential for recycling of municipal waste, and for its excessive confidence that the past failures in regulation of incinerators will not recur. However, the Government sees things differently.

In an initial comment on the report, the new Environment Minister, Tim Yeo, said in a parliamentary answer that the Government welcomes it as a "comprehensive and clear analysis of the role of incineration as a waste management option. It describes incineration in a positive and reassuring light and is likely to go a long way to offsetting public concerns about incineration."1The report appears to have helped reawaken the idea of a target for energy recovery from waste, first mooted by former Environment Secretary Michael Heseltine two years ago. Mr Yeo revealed that the concept is being re-examined in conjunction with the Department of Trade and Industry, adding that the Government is "keen to promote the development of schemes which derive energy from waste".2An energy recovery target is not the only measure under consideration. Mr Yeo commented that it is being examined "among other ways of encouraging greater use of this option", and that the non-fossil fuel obligation - under which electricity generation subsidies have been offered to several incineration projects - has provided only an "initial" stimulus for such schemes. The Government is known to be considering the introduction of a landfill levy (ENDS Report 217, pp 12-13 ), but whether it has other cards up its sleeve remains to be seen.

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