The government will consider introducing a tax on incinerated waste if other measures to drive up recycling rates fail.

A wide-ranging Resources and Waste Strategy, published yesterday (18 December) by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), says incineration is expected to continue to play a “significant” role in ensuring that rubbish is not sent to landfill.

Government statistics show that 41 per cent of municipal waste is burnt. The incineration of bio-degradable waste in England’s approximately 40 energy from waste (EfW) plants contributes about 3.4 per cent of the nation’s total renewable electricity supplies.

The strategy sets out a goal to increase the proportion of waste that is recycled, which has flatlined in recent years around 45 per cent.

The strategy says: “Should wider policies not deliver the government’s waste ambitions in the long-term, we will consider the introduction of a tax on the incineration of waste.”

This commitment is in line with the long-term ambition, outlined in October’s Budget, to maximise the amount of waste sent for recycling rather than incineration or landfill.

The paper also says that work is underway across government to increase the number of EfW plants which work in combined heat and power mode from the current level of eight.

It says the review of planning guidance for waste management in England, due to be carried out next year by Defra and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, will consider how future incineration plants can be situated near potential heat customers.

The strategy also sets out plans for mandatory weekly separate collections by 2023 of household food waste, which is the feedstock for anaerobic digestion plants.

Charlotte Morton, chief executive of the Anaerobic Digestion and Bioresources Association, welcomed the setting of the food waste collection target but called for it to be rolled out rapidly.

She said: “It’s an absolute no-brainer that inedible food waste should be separately collected so it doesn’t end up wasted in incinerators or landfill and so that the energy and nutrition locked up in it can be reused, reducing the UK’s need for fossil-based energy and fertiliser. As the strategy says, it is a moral scandal that so much of this valuable resource is wasted.

“A commitment by ministers to universal food waste collections will finally allow England to catch up with the rest of the UK in recycling its inedible food waste whilst, most importantly, reducing the amount of food wasted in the first place.

“However, 2023 is a long way off. There are around 70 local authorities with their waste contracts up for renewal in the next three years – for this policy to have tangible effects we need actions from the government long before 2023 to provide funding, guidance and support to local authorities to implement separate food waste collections as quickly as possible.

“This is not only vital for us to meet our commitments under the fourth and fifth carbon budgets, but is also the lowest cost option.”

Jeremy Jacobs, technical director of the Renewable Energy Association, said that the introduction of mandatory food waste collections would bring England into line with Scotland and Wales.

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