By John Ferguson

DR Colin Church’s independent review of the role of incineration in Scotland’s waste hierarchy was published last month with a number of core recommendations for the Scottish Government, local authorities and the wider waste industry.

Among these is his recommendation to grant no further planning permission for incineration infrastructure unless this was balanced by an equal or greater closure of capacity. Dr Church also called for a declining indicative cap on the amount of residual waste treatment needed as Scotland transitions towards a fully circular economy, where he’s stressed the need for greater community engagement during and after this process.

As operators within Scotland’s waste management sector, we welcome many of these recommendations but have concerns that the proposal to significantly curtail new incineration facilities will make it near impossible to manage the nation’s residual waste stream and could also result in missed opportunities for local communities unless this ban is flexibly managed.

It’s important that incineration policy does not operate in isolation. Decreasing the amount of waste we burn will only happen if we focus on consumer responsibility to reduce residual waste and ensure we have an environmentally sound end-of-life solution for all items disposed of by households. Public policy will also need to be further adapted to stimulate demand for recycled materials, including more extensive use of mandatory recycled content instruments.

The Scottish Government also must further invest to change behaviour and address the impact of consumer consumption with new waste-focused initiatives like the Deposit Return Scheme for empty drink bottles and cans, which comes into effect in August 2023.

To reduce the carbon impacts of incineration and address the catastrophic levels of plastic waste going into the environment, we also need to invest in systems which capture all plastics from landfill waste and process it in facilities designed to maximise recovery value. Project Beacon, the proposed advanced plastics sorting and upcycling demonstration facility included in the £300m Tay Cities Deal, is a great example of how the industry and government can work together to achieve a successful outcome.

We can also enhance carbon performance of incineration by using it more effectively for district heating and industrial processes, including food production, to deliver wider benefits for society as we face mounting concerns about energy costs and food security. This does, however, require more not less flexibility within our planning system to fill any capacity gaps.

The waste management sector also requires further support to drive innovation and develop new forms of technology which will ultimately help deliver on government net zero commitments.

In responding to Dr Church’s review later this month, I hope the Scottish Government will recognise the ongoing importance of incineration, not only in managing the relentless flows of residual wastes but also its potential role in creating new low carbon economic opportunities and providing community benefit. Supporting the work of the waste management sector in building efficiencies whilst protecting public health and the environment will also be critical in striking the right balance.

John Ferguson is Head of Strategy at Binn Eco Park. See