Burning black bag waste only viable option to stop landfilling

Essex County Council has said burning black bag waste is the only viable option available as it plans a strategy without landfills.

However, the county council adds its principal focus is to reduce the overall amount of residual waste by increasing recycling rates to 70 per cent.

The authority is currently agreeing on how it proposes to manage waste from homes and businesses in the county for the next 30 years.

The aim is to reduce overall waste while increasing the amount reused and recycled. However, it is likely that large quantities of black bag residual waste will still need to be dealt with.

A new contract over at least the next seven years out to tender stipulates that waste is diverted from landfill from January 1 2028, save for the use of landfill as a contingency arrangement or the use of landfill for the disposal of unexpected waste where necessary.

Essex County Council wants to remove the use of landfill as an option altogether by 2030.

Just over half of the 629,000 tonnes of household waste collected in Essex last year required disposal in landfills.

It currently costs Essex County Council £93m a year to deal with all waste – and the estimated cost of black bag rubbish is expected to cost taxpayers at least £42m in 2024/25.

Jason Searles, head of waste strategy, said at a Place Services and Economic Growth Policy and Scrutiny Committee on February 21: “The recommendation around the use of energy from waste is a recognition of the limited options available around treatment of residual waste.

“Landfill as a long term solution fo dealing with residual waste is not an option both in terms of the availability of landfill sites but also the government policy around the continued use of landfill.

“There needs to be a deliverable and technically achievable solution for dealing with what’s left.

“And from all the analysis and activity that has been done energy from waste is the most appropriate way for dealing with what’s left.

“However we fully recognise any waste treatment solution has negative impacts on the environment and we need to ensure that the processes and technologies that are adopted minimise those as much as possible.”

A 10-week public consultation was open between 13 September and 22 November 2023. This gave an opportunity for residents, businesses and organisations to have their say on our proposal.

Almost 70 per cent agreed with energy from waste and about 15 per cent disagreed.

He said it was important that fossil fuel-derived materials like plastic were pulled from the residual waste stream.

Mr Searles said: “In terms of the overall ambition it is very much focused around driving waste down, reducing the overall amount of waste that is generated within the county, maximising the reuse and recycling of waste

“So really trying to get maximum value out of materials to protect the environment but also to drive down the overall cost of dealing with waste.

“We are in that good position that the environmentally right thing to do is also the best value for money as well. We need to drive those two things together.

“Also the strategy is proposing that the waste that can’t be reused or recycled no longer goes to landfill and we cease of the use by 2030 and instead the material we can’t reuse or recycle we look to use energy from waste.”

Committee member Councillor Chris Siddell suggested plastics could be regarded as a fuel and could reduce homes’ reliance on oil-fired boilers.

He said: “We really need to be clear about recycling reuse and energy because I see burning plastics as a source of energy, you heat plastics to 400C it goes back to oil.

“Ninety per cent of the boilers in the rural areas around Halstead are oil-fired boilers. We really need to make sure we capture and use that energy that is generated. If by burning plastics in an incinerator [residents] don’t have to burn oil at home that’s a fantastic thing for the planet.”

The tendering process for new waste contracts and the development of the Essex waste strategy comes amid major developments in the county for the processing of waste from incineration.

Indaver’s facility currently under construction in Rivenhall will be able to take 595,000 tonnes of waste annually when it opens in 2025. Waste operator Viridor wants permission for its Tilbury-based energy-for-waste facility to be able to handle 379,658 tonnes a year.

Essex County Council’s planning committee has decided to defer an application for an energy from waste facility capable of burning 150,000 tonnes in Basildon on grounds more need to be done to examine the impacts.”

Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter