Lancashire "reviewing its options" over waste incineration

Plans for Lancashire to generate electricity by burning most of its non-recyclable rubbish could be changed by forthcoming government legislation.

Thursday, 22nd July 2021, 10:02 pm
Updated Thursday, 22nd July 2021, 10:04 pm

Last year, Lancashire County Council’s cabinet gave the green light to start a procurement exercise to enter into a 15-year energy-from-waste contract from 2025.

If agreed, it would see between 250,000 and 300,000 tonnes of the total “residual waste” produced in the county every year sent for thermal treatment.

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At the time, cabinet members were told that the process offered a “better environmental solution” compared to the current landfill contract it would replace - and could reduce costs. That deal was struck back in 2006 and has resulted in Lancashire being obliged to dispatch a set amount of waste to landfill annually - or face penalties under the terms of the agreement.

However, cabinet member for environment and climate change Shaun Turner revealed at a meeting of the full council that the authority was currently “reviewing its options” regarding future arrangements for waste disposal, pending the outcome of the Environmental Bill which is currently progressing through Parliament.

“[It] proposes a number of changes in waste policy - things like extended producer responsibility, which [involves] the producers of packaging paying for its disposal; a deposit return scheme for drinks bottles and cartons; and also separate food waste collections.

“The good thing is that there is no rush for us to decide anything yet,” said County Cllr Turner, adding that the authority would also consider the future role of its two waste recovery sites at Farington and Thornton, which seek to maximize the amount of rubbish which is recycled, and which could in future also be used to process other waste types such as food.

Papers presented to the council’s cabinet last March noted that there was uncertainty about how much residual waste Lancashire will be producing by the middle of the next decade - with estimates ranging from 300,000 to 500,000 tonnes per year. The figure is currently halfway between the two.

Cabinet members were told at the time that while recycling was the county’s priority, there would always be some level of residual waste which needed to be dealt with. They were also advised that the thermal waste contract could make use of new incineration infrastructure within or outside of Lancashire.

The full council meeting heard that there had been local opposition to a proposal for a private sector incinerator on the outskirts of Preston, at the Red Scar Industrial Estate off Longridge Road, which was approved by the county council in November 2019.

County Cllr Jackie Oakes asked whether, given that backdrop, “plans for county-wide incineration of waste on a carbon-neutral basis are going ahead - with or without guaranteed volumes of waste”.

County Cllr Turner said he was wary of being hamstrung by a thermal treatment contract in the same way as the authority had been by its existing landfill agreement.

“We have to send at least 240,000 tonnes to landfill or we get penalised - some of that, we could actually be recycling. So when [the contract] does come to an end, obviously we’ll be looking at other ways [of disposing waste].

“At the minute, waste-to-energy is the only option… but things are happening in the distance. [Some of] the best power of waste-to-energy [is] the plastic films that wrap bottles up and go over your food containers, because it's essentially oil and it burns really fiercely.

“Government are even talking about those [being suitable] for recycling now - so...to commit to [waste-to-energy] could put you on a sticky wicket, as we have been with this last contract.

“So it's going to take a bit of thought - we might need to look at smaller contracts doing different things with contracts ending at different times, so we are not lumbered with all our eggs in one basket.”

County Cllr Turner said proposals should be put before the county council around this time next year.