Sunderland burning more than two-thirds of the rubbish collected

Waste bins.
Waste bins.
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More than two-thirds of the rubbish produced in Sunderland is being burnt, one of the highest rates of incineration in England.

Now politicians are warning of an “incinerator boom” which may be harmful to public health.

According to latest figures from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, in Sunderland about 95,451 tonnes of rubbish, 72% of all waste, ended up in incinerator plants in 2016-17.

The vast majority of this was used as fuel to generate heat and electricity in specialist Energy-from-Waste (EfW) power facilities.

The figures include the rubbish made up of everyday items that are disposed of by the public at home or on the go.

Across England, burning rubbish has become more common over the last years. The average incineration rate in the country is about 38%, up from 30% two years earlier

A report launched last week in the House of Lords stoked the debate on burning waste in Britain.

Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat politicians called on the Government to take oversight on the industry and introduce an incineration tax.

The research revealed that harmful particles released by incinerators in England last year were equivalent to the emissions of more than a quarter-of-a-million 40-tonne lorries travelling 75,000 miles per year.

Libby Forrest, policy and parliamentary affairs officer at Environmental Services Association, believes the increase of waste incineration should be celebrated.

She said: “Energy from Waste has increased because we are successfully moving away from landfill, which is more damaging to the environment.

“Energy from Waste saves 200kg of CO₂ per tonne of waste diverted from landfill, and generates low-carbon power far more efficiently than landfill, contributing to renewable energy targets and energy security.

“A number of factors have contributed to stalling recycling rates. The easy wins for recycling had already been made by this point, commodity prices fell which has made it much more difficult for secondary resources to compete with primary, and until very recently there has been a lack of political willpower to take action.”

The second most common way of getting rid of rubbish in Sunderland was recycling.

In 2016-17, about 36,238 tonnes of waste, 27% of the overall, were recycled to produce new materials or composted to obtain fertilisers.

Waste dumped in landfill accounts for 1% of the total.

Over the last two years, the recycling rate in Sunderland fell from 32% in 2014-15.

The Government aims to recycle half of the household waste by 2020 nationally, cutting to 35% the proportion of rubbish going to landfill.

Shlomo Dowen, national co-ordinator of United Kingdom Without Incineration Network (UKWIN), thinks that most of what is incinerated could be recycled, which would reduce the amount of harmful emissions that worsen air quality.

He said: “Across the UK there is more than 19 million tonnes of residual waste treatment capacity operational or under construction, but forecasts indicate that by 2030 there will only be around 10 million tonnes of residual waste available for treatment. This means that we are already facing an overcapacity of incineration that is harming recycling.

“Many councils are locked into long-term waste contracts that encourage the incineration of recyclable and compostable material.

“Some councils have already broken free of these waste contracts. We need central Government to help the other councils renegotiate or cancel these awful contracts.”

Baroness Jones, the Green Party member of the House of Lords, said: “There is a logic to generating energy from the waste that we cannot recycle or reuse, but it is meant to be the last resort option.

What we have created instead is a market-driven system of incinerators which constantly need to be fed.”