We know that these new technologies represent change, and that change will raise questions. But it is no longer a question of should we build new waste treatment facilities. The real question we need to ask is how to dispose of our waste without sending it to landfill, while at the same time recovering value from this waste.
Hopefully the previous pages have helped to give an insight into why we have to treat our waste in a more sustainable way. If your questions are not answered here, please let us know.
Why do we need to build new facilities to treat our waste?
We need to treat waste as a resource, not as something we throw away. New waste treatment facilities will turn food and non-recyclable waste into a source of renewable energy. By building new facilities we can treat our waste in a sustainable way, reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and help to secure the Wales’ energy supply.
Why can’t we just continue to landfill our waste?
Landfill is not a sustainable option. Space is running out and it is very unlikely that we will be able to build more. The act of throwing our waste directly into landfill is a waste of all the raw material and energy that went into making the products that we use. We also create methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that is 23 times more damaging to the environment than carbon dioxide, as well as a leachate that can harm our water systems.
Will the new facilities have a negative effect on recycling?
Councils across Wales are committed to recycling 70 percent of our waste. We need to continue recycling as much as we can, as often as we can. The top five recycling nations in Europe are also the top five users of energy from waste technology. Belgium, Holland, Germany, Denmark and France all show that high recycling rates sit comfortably alongside the use of efficient waste treatment facilities.
What are the preferred technology solutions?
With the exception of anaerobic digestion for the treatment of food waste there are no preferred solutions. Anaerobic digestion is preferred to IVC because it uses food waste to produce 100 percent renewable energy as well as soil conditioner.
When it comes to treating the materials that are left over after we have recycled as much as we can, there is no preferred technology. However, it is widely recognised that treatments that recover both heat and electricity offer the most efficient option. The higher the efficiency of energy recovery, the more desirable the solution is.
What proportion of waste do you expect to go for energy recovery?
The Welsh Assembly Government has set a limit on the amount of waste that can be sent to energy from waste facilities. As reducing, reusing and recycling our waste is the most sustainable option for Wales, we will only be able to treat 30 percent of household waste using energy from waste technology. This is why we need to become a high recycling nation. We need to recover 70 percent of our waste by recycling it.
What is anaerobic digestion?
Anaerobic digestion is used to treat food waste. In Wales we throw away over 400,000 tonnes of food waste every year. The technology copies a natural process by using naturally occurring microbes to break down the waste, and this produces a source of 100 percent renewable energy. It also produces digestate which can be used as a fertiliser and soil conditioner.
Does new technology simply mean incineration?
No - a wide range of technologies can be used to turn our waste into a source of energy. This includes anaerobic digestion, mechanical and biological treatment, combustion with combined heat and power as well as pyrolysis and gasification. Regional partnerships involving all 22 Welsh local authorities will be looking to develop the most sustainable, cost effective and practical solution for your area.
Is energy from waste technology new? How do we know it works?
Energy from waste treatment is widely regarded as a safe, reliable and proven method for treating non-recyclable waste. The recovery of energy from waste dates back over 100 years with modern facilities being highly efficient and well regulated. The UK is lagging behind in its use of new treatment technologies. The USA already has 121 facilities spread across 29 states, while Europe has close to 400 and Asia more than 300. Germany has 200 energy from waste facilities alone.
What are the benefits of developing new waste technologies?
Our waste is a resource. Recovering this resource will have important environmental benefits.
The benefits of using these new technologies include:
- the production of 100 percent renewable energy
- a reduction in landfill and the levels of methane and carbon dioxide produced
- a replacement of fossil fuels leading to reduced carbon dioxide emissions
- an improvement of the national security of energy supply
- waste becoming a source of heat and power
Who will regulate these new waste facilities?
Waste treatment facilities are among the most strictly regulated industries in the UK. Natural Resources Wales (previously the Environment Agency) will monitor the performance of these facilities on a regular basis and has access to all emissions testing and monitoring results. If the facility uses incineration technology it will also be subject to the stringent emission levels set by the European Incineration Directive. Many existing energy from waste facilities publicly display their emissions readings for everyone to see.
Does incineration produce high levels of dioxins and will it affect my health?
Pressure groups often talk about dioxins - chemicals that are harmful to human health. However, production from incineration facilities is extremely small. It helps if we realise that about 14 percent of UK dioxin emissions are produced on bonfire night alone, while the Health Protection Agency recently released a report stating that less than 1% of UK yearly dioxin emissions would come from the incineration of household waste. Improvements in technology and regulation mean incineration emissions have not only fallen significantly, but that emissions will be highly regulated to ensure a continuation of this good performance.
How many facilities will need to be built?
Councils across Wales are joining together in regional partnerships to develop the most sustainable, cost effective and practical solution for dealing with our waste. By taking a regional approach, the number of new waste treatment facilities will be limited. Wales will see the development of a small number of facilities capable of dealing with the waste created in a region as a whole.
Where and when will the new facilities be built?
Many new waste treatment facilities will need to be built across Wales over the next few years. Every new facility will be subject to strict planning and permitting processes. Local Authorities will need to make very difficult decisions about suitable locations and, among other aspects, will take into consideration local housing, transport routes and proximity of sites to other waste treatment facilities.
Private industry will also affect what will be built and when. While councils throughout Wales are looking to buy new facilities as a solution for dealing with our household waste, private companies will also be applying to local authorities to build facilities of their own. These may be intended to treat commercial and industrial waste. While local authorities are not responsible for proposing these new facilities, they will have a role in evaluating any planning proposal submitted by private companies.
Public engagement throughout the planning process will be vital. You do have a say. Creating a zero waste Wales will require a huge national effort and it is important that you get involved.