Waste Incineration and Recycling Rates DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
Craig WilliamsMain Page: Craig Williams (Conservative - Montgomeryshire)
(1 month, 3 weeks ago)Westminster Hall
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs McVey. Climate change is one of the biggest threats we face, and so it is right that the Government are taking significant action to combat it. As part of this, I welcome many aspects of their approach to waste and recycling, in particular the commitment to creating greater consistency in recycling collections. An example of where that would be useful is among students coming to any town in the country, who are used to one form of recycling and then discover there is a totally different one where their university is, and everybody has to be re-educated every year.
We have one very good example of an excellent charity in Loughborough that deals with recycling and reuse, called SOFA. It is absolutely superb at keeping a lot of furniture and household goods out of the recycling chain, and selling it on for reuse. However, one aspect of the Government’s approach to waste and recycling needs to be revised, and I certainly support the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn). I have made clear in previous debates and correspondence with Ministers my concern regarding the building of new incinerators because of their impact on the environment and the health of local communities around them. I have pressed for more research to be undertaken to better understand their impact on those with higher activity respiratory levels.
That is particularly relevant to my constituency, where an incinerator is being built in close proximity to elite athlete training grounds. As the Minister set out in her response to my recent written question, since 3 December 2019, all incinerator permits have contained lower limits of total particulate matter of 5 mg per cubic metre, and permits issued before that date will be changed to require compliance with the lower limit by 3 December 2023.
Although that is welcome—and it is very welcome—I ask that incinerators that have been issued permits but are currently under construction should also have to comply with the lower limit from the outset. I have also been contacted by a local group who are calling for specific PM 2.5 limits to be introduced, rather than just limits for total particulate matter. Further, following the Climate Change Committee’s recommendation that all 2020 incinerators should have carbon capture and storage, the local group would also like it to be a requirement at the point of construction in any planning conditions, including those currently under construction. I would welcome the Minister’s comments on those points.
We are also actively encouraging individuals and companies to recycle more and produce less waste. Over time, we will become less reliant on incinerators, and there will not be enough waste to keep existing incinerators open. In my constituency, there is already not enough commercial and industrial residual waste locally to keep the new incinerator going, so waste will inevitably be brought in from afar by road, leading to increased vehicle emissions around the M1 and the A512 and creating further pollution in our local area from waste produced elsewhere.
Finally, I would argue that the incinerators could impact on the Government’s commitment to net zero emissions by 2050 by not encouraging recycling and reuse, as my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington mentioned earlier. If we are to achieve this ambitious target, we must work to reduce emissions from all sources.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McVey. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) for securing this important debate. I also refer hon. Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests and declare that my family runs a plastic waste recycling business.
I want to use my limited time today to talk specifically about waste incineration, touching on my concerns about how decisions regarding new incinerator applications and environmental permitting for waste incinerators are made, and the future direction of waste incineration itself.
I am sure we are all aware of the waste hierarchy. It gives top priority to preventing waste in the first place. When waste is created, it gives priority to preparing it for reuse, then for recycling, then recovery, and last of all disposal—landfill and waste incineration. I believe all Government policy should be based on this hierarchy.
There is a strong case to argue that if sufficient weight is given to utilising waste incineration as an option for dealing with waste, then a fiscal disincentive, an incineration tax, should be considered as an option, as we have with the landfill tax—I would also favour increasing landfill tax—because otherwise that can become a barrier to developing a greener circular economy, by preventing resources from being reused and depressing recycling rates, and, as a method, incineration gives rise to air pollution concerns.
I want to touch on air pollution. It is quite clear that the process of incineration from waste creates a number of emissions, and there is much concern regarding waste incineration and air quality and human health. This concern relates predominantly to particulate matter, which is predominantly composed of materials such as sulphate, nitrates, ammonia, sodium chloride and black carbon. The Minister will be aware that, back in 2018 and 2019, Public Health England funded a study to examine emissions of particulate matter from incinerators and their impact on human health. The study found that emissions from particulate matter from waste incinerators are low, and make only a small contribution to ambient background levels. However, while levels may be low, this study acknowledged that there is a contribution nevertheless. There will be many factors that influence the impact on air quality and human health that the incinerator can have, such as the stack height of an incinerator, whether the incinerator is located in the bottom of a valley, the resultant impact of temperature or cloud inversions, and its proximity to homes, schools and playing fields.
Rather frustratingly, and despite huge amounts of local opposition—including from an excellent and well-run campaign group in my constituency, the Aire Valley Against Incineration, along with many residents, myself, and my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), from my neighbouring constituency—the green light has just been issued for the Aire Valley incinerator to operate. This incinerator is to be built on the periphery of Keighley, in the bottom of a valley in close proximity to schools, playing fields and homes. The scheme was awarded planning consent and given the green light by our local authority, Bradford Council, back in 2016, and earlier this year was awarded an environmental permit by the Environment Agency. All this despite strong local opposition.
Residents are quite rightly concerned about air quality—not just from the incinerator itself, but from the increased traffic flows bringing waste to the site. In questioning the decision making for the environmental permit that has just been issued by the Environment Agency, unbelievably, I was told that the Environment Agency could consider only emissions from the incinerator itself, not the emissions from increased traffic flows, because that was a planning matter, which Bradford Council, in already giving the green light, had considered acceptable in the first place. This raises a much bigger issue: the process of how permits are awarded for incinerators. My concern is that a cohesive, full-picture review is not taken into account when looking at the impact on air quality from the whole incineration process itself, which includes the emissions from traffic flow.
For me, this debate is vital. As a Member who sat on the Environment Bill Committee, I am pretty excited about what the Government are doing going forward. However, I reaffirm my commitment that all Government policy should go back to that first waste hierarchy and look at adopting a review of whether an incineration tax is the right route to go down, as I believe it should be.
The message from Keighley is that we do not want this incinerator. It is unfortunate that it looks as if the green light has been given, but local voices should be heard much more loudly and clearly in any decision-making process for anything that is likely to have an impact on air quality or human health.