Incineration is part of a linear economy

How the corporate goldrush for incineration, gasification and pyrolysis of waste generates more consumption, more waste and more pollution


‘When waste to energy companies propose to build incineration/gasification plants they stipulate that contracts be in place which lock-in local authorities to providing them with a fixed tonnage of waste over the lifetime of the plant (often about 25 years). Thereby, in return for their investment, the shareholders get guaranteed annual dividends. But, by making this deal, it also means that the local authority is committed to promoting consumption and the creation of high levels of waste, thus maintaining the linear (make, use, discard) economy. Hence, explaining why the “reduce, re-use, recycle” message has quietly disappeared.’

The United Kingdom Without Incineration Network (UKWIN) is a not-for profit organisation that was founded in 2007 to help communities fight against proposed municipal solid waste (MSW) incineration plants. Despite being reliant on philanthropic donations, it has grown into a skilled and effective network comprising more than 85 local grass-roots community groups, and during the last ten years it has helped stop at least sixty incinerators from being built.

More recently, as a direct consequence of waste industry investment preferences, UKWIN has moved from its initial aims, to be now focussed on promoting circular economic practices, along with defending communities against a new type of thermal treatment technology: the gasification and pyrolysis plant (1).

I was trained as a thermal decomposition engineer, taught at a Russell Group University by world leaders in waste to energy research, and since 2012 I have specialised in working with small-scale gasification technologies (2). I may therefore seem a very strange bedfellow for UKWIN. But this is just what I am.

Two years ago, I was introduced, by chance, to the world of corporate MSW gasification and pyrolysis. A private company had made a blanket application for the construction of twelveprocessing plants across the UK, and a friend asked me if I would appraise the proposal’s environmental permit application. I said “yes”, and when I did so I was shocked by what I read. Apart from the overall poor quality of the submission, it was obvious to me that the system would never work. Because of this I gave an expert opinion objecting to the plant, and then offered my continued support to UKWIN. In the months that followed, my eyes were opened to many other applications, widespread misunderstandings about the technology, and a corporate powerhouse behind it.

Read more here.