FEARS have been raised Scotland could become the “waste dump of Europe” if capacity to burn rubbish continues to soar and recycling rates increase – forcing incinerators to import litter from the continent.

SNP and Green ministers came under fire last month for refusing to issue a moratorium on new waste incinerators, despite being a manifesto commitment of Lorna Slater’s party.

Instead, Ms Slater, the Scottish Government’s Circular Economy Minister, has ordered a review into burning waste that “will prioritise consideration of national capacity requirements for incineration”.

As of 2020, incinerator capacity operating and in the pipeline totalled 2.1Mt. Scotland generated 2.42Mt of household waste in 2020 – with 45% of this recycled. This would leave only 1.33Mt of domestic waste to burn once Scotland’s landfill ban comes into affect in 2025 and all incineration capacity comes online.

This capacity outstripping domestic waste available to burn could lead to incineration operators forced to import rubbish from overseas to keep them running.

The other option would be for the facilities to be decommissioned – but Scottish taxpayers would be liable for at least part of the bill, as confirmed by Ms Slater.

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SNP and Greens ministers need only look to Denmark where waste has been imported to fuel incinerators – with the Danish Government resorting to paying operators to close down facilities.

Last year, a Danish Government report warned that “overcapacity in the Danish incineration plants means that the plants - in order to fill up the kilns - import large amounts of waste for incineration in Denmark”. It added: “This waste contains significantly more plastic than Danish waste, and it therefore increases Danish CO2 emissions.”

Scottish Conservative MSP, Maurice Golden, who has pressed the Scottish Government to stop allowing waste to be burned, said: “Instead of implementing a landfill ban, the SNP-Green coalition is burning rubbish. Incineration capacity for household waste is skyrocketing towards 2.1 million tonnes a year.

“Perversely, if recycling increases, there might not be enough domestic waste left to burn. “The SNP-Green coalition could end up importing rubbish to keep the incinerators running, turning Scotland into the waste dump of Europe."

HeraldScotland: Conservative MSP Maurice GoldenConservative MSP Maurice Golden

He added: “If the Government tries to shut incinerators, taxpayers could end up footing the bill.

“Lorna Slater has already admitted in a written response that incinerator operators are not required to fund full decommissioning costs.”

Zero Waste Scotland has undertaken modelling on incineration based on Scotland’s recycling targets being met and not met – with both highlighting a shortfall of at least 1 million tonnes of waste treatment capacity caused by a ban on landfill.

The report added: “It would be wise to limit development of new thermal treatment capacity to that required once any targets have been met to avoid creating overcapacity as recycling increases.”

Iain Gulland, chief executive of Zero Waste Scotland, said: “To truly end our contribution to climate change, we need to eliminate ‘waste’ entirely – which includes ending all forms of ‘disposal’ such as incineration and landfill.

“We need to replace the linear economy with a circular one, where we retain the value of products and materials within our economy to reduce the impact on our natural world through the over exploitation of its finite resources.”

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Environmental campaigners have called for a rethink on issuing a moratorium on new waste incinerators to send a message that burning waste cannot continue.

Kim Pratt, circular economy campaigner at Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: "The idea of importing waste to burn shows why new incinerators in Scotland will be so disastrous for the planet - they need to keep being fed, which means that there is less impetus to reduce waste and even materials that should be recycled could end up being burnt instead.

"Emissions from incinerators drive climate change and cause air pollution that’s dangerous for our health. If Scotland wants to be the climate leader it claims to be, such polluting practices cannot be allowed to continue.

"There must be a mortarium on new incineration applications whilst the Scottish Government’s review is conducted to stop operators rushing in new plants before the findings are published. The details of the review are yet to be announced, so there is still time for the Government to do the right thing and pause new applications. The review needs to provide an exit strategy from incineration before it is too late.”

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Advances in technology have meant that some newer facilities incinerate waste to produce electricity and heat by energy from waste (EFW) operations – but this still contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.

A spokesperson for the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) said: “Scotland’s globally ambitious net zero and circular economy strategies set Scotland a clear course to become a modern, prosperous, inclusive and sustainable economy.

“Where new facilities do come forward, SEPA will ensure they are designed and operated to ensure they only accept non-recyclable waste, achieve a high level of energy efficiency and meet strict emission limits to protect the environment and human health.

“Energy recovery plays a small but important role in the safe and responsible treatment of currently non-recyclable materials which would have otherwise gone to landfill.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We have committed to ending our contribution to climate change within a generation and we are making great progress – Scotland is already more than half way to net zero. “The latest data shows that the whole-life carbon impacts of Scotland’s household waste are at their lowest since records began.

“To make sure that progress continues, we recently announced a review into the role incineration plays in Scotland’s waste hierarchy, including the need for new incineration capacity.

“Given our ambitious targets for waste reduction, as well as our focus on reducing waste and increasing the proportion of waste we reuse and recycle, the review will prioritise consideration of national capacity requirements for incineration.”