Wealden Works
Energy from Waste

Energy from Waste

What is Energy-from-Waste?
Energy from waste (EfW) facilities treat household, commercial and industrial (business) waste that cannot be recycled or composted.

EfW facilities then use this waste to generate energy which can be in the form of heat (hot water or steam) or electricity. The electricity is fed into the local electricity distribution system - in the case of Wealden Works, this will be through UK Power Networks - before being distributed to the end-users such as homes and businesses.

The plant will have the ability to produce heat and electricity simultaneously. Once a pipework distribution network is established, steam, can be sent through the network to heat (or cool) homes, schools, hospitals, offices etc., as well as being used by the nearby industry in their production processes. Heat will need to be distributed through piping networks, and these will need to be developed.

EfW is a hygienic and proven method of treating non-recyclable waste, that will otherwise end up being landfilled. It will also reduce the volume of solid material by about 90%.

Modern EfW plants are clean and safe, meeting strict emission limits, now placed on all industries and set out in the Industrial Emissions Directive and regulated by the Environment Agency in England and Wales.

More information on Energy from Waste can be viewed here.

Why are Energy from Waste facilities needed in the UK?
Currently the UK sends over 12 million tonnes of household and commercial waste to landfill sites across the UK. In the south of England, however, there are now no landfills available to waste management companies between Dorset and the English Channel with the exception of one in Surrey. West Sussex currently exports all its waste for disposal outside of the County. With the absence of landfills and waste treatment facilities in the region, there is an urgent need to ensure that West Sussex as well as the rest of the south of England has the right infrastructure in place to deal with this waste in the future.   More information on landfill in the UK and in particularly a shortage of current capacity in London and the South East region is available here.

Looking to the future, by 2030 there may be up to 6M tonnes of residual waste which needs treatment with nowhere for it to go. Even if the UK reaches its 65% recycling target by 2035, there is a real risk of under-capacity of UK Energy from Waste facilities, which is likely to be compounded when some older UK plants come offline by that time.

What kind of presence does EfW have globally?

EfW is a proven waste management solution used extensively worldwide. There are over 780 facilities around the world safely converting more than 125 million tonnes of waste per year into electricity.

Countries that extensively utilize EfW include; Sweden, Germany, Denmark, Netherlands, Switzerland, France, Singapore and Japan. Many new facilities are being planned in Europe, Asia, North America and even the Middle East. 
Are EfW facilities better for the environment than landfills? What role does EfW play in climate change and the circular economy?
EfW is a sustainable solution and plays a part in the circular economy by generating energy and recovering metals and aggregates for recycling; burying waste in a landfill is not sustainable.

When waste is buried in landfills it decomposes and generates methane. Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas - over 30 times more potent than CO2. Therefore, with the objective of addressing climate change, the European Union has issued a directive to limit the landfilling of biodegradable municipal solid waste to 35% of the quantity landfilled in 1995.

EfW is a net reducer of greenhouse gas emissions because it does not create the methane that landfill produces, in addition to offsetting the need to burn fossil fuels in power plants.

More information on landfill in the UK and in particularly a shortage of current capacity in London and the South East region is available here.
What about emissions from EfW facilities?

Modern EfW plants in England can only operate with an Environmental Permit from the Environment Agency (EA) under the Pollution Prevention and Control regulations.  Other parts of the UK have their own respective agencies with similar powers.
Operators must continuously monitor in real time and report emissions from the plant. The EA inspect facilities regularly and tightly enforces regulations.

Importantly, Public Health England reviewed the latest scientific evidence on the health effects of modern incinerators and concluded in a major study into the potential health effects of emissions from energy from waste plants (August 2017).  Public Health England has maintained that ‘any potential damage from modern, well run and regulated incinerators is likely to be so small that it would be undetectable.’ (Source: Public Health England).  For more information on operational EfW facilities and air quality please click here.
The UK’s Environmental Services Association (ESA) puts EfW emissions into context, stating ‘in 2015 home wood burners generated 785 times more particulate matter, while road traffic emitted 45 times more NOx, and Bonfire Night alone produced 10 times more dioxins than all UK EfW facilities across the whole year.’

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers has gone on to say that the emission control systems of many modern EfWs actually clean the ambient air that passes through them.

Do EfW facility increase particulate emissions?
Unlike open burning and wildfires, modern EfW facilities use state-of-the-art emissions controls to capture and control particulate matter to within strictly controlled limits.
How many EfW facilities are there in the UK?
In December 2017 there were 40 operational EfWs in the UK with a further 2 in commissioning.  (Source: Tolvik Consulting, UK Energy from Waste Statistics - 2017)
What are the benefits of Energy-from-Waste for waste treatment?

Energy-from-Waste (EfW) is an important part of an overall integrated waste management approach, recognized in the waste management hierarchy as preferable to landfilling for those materials remaining after waste reduction, reuse, and recycling efforts have been exhausted.

After recycling takes place, EfW facilities recover energy from remaining waste materials in an environmentally sound manner. While doing so, EfW facilities reduce the need for fossil-based energy and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions relative to landfilling.
What is the role of Energy from Waste in a Circular Economy?

The circular economy aims to keep products, components and materials at their highest utility and value at all times. In this way, “waste” does not have to be wasted, but rather may be used as an input material for another production process.

Just like the waste hierarchy, waste reduction, reuse and recycling should be prioritized, but for remaining materials, energy recovery has an important role to play. Due to the laws of science, it is not possible to reuse or recycle everything and it is inevitable that there is a residual stream remaining after those processes. Energy from waste prevents that residual stream building up, which at the same time converts it to energy - which is in itself, a production process. Nearly every step of a circular economy requires an energy input and recovering energy from leftover waste can help meet this need. In addition to Energy Recovery, over 80% of the post-combustion residue arising can be used as a construction material, further contributing to recycling.
Does Energy-from-Waste discourage recycling?

No, EfW does not interfere with recycling. In fact, experience and data collected by the European Union shows that EfW and recycling work very well together. In the European Union (EU), EfW and recycling have grown together because of policies that minimize landfills.

The European Environment Agency states, “There is no evidence to support [the argument that] incineration of waste with energy recovery hinders the development of recycling.”  The EU countries with the highest recycling rates all use EfW extensively to process waste left over after recycling.
Why is an Environmental Permit needed to operate an EfW facility and what does this contain?
An Environmental Permit regulates the way all UK EfW facilities operate and sets strict requirements in line with EU and British legislation. It is like a licence that makes sure that the plant remains in good operating condition, will not damage the environment, and that the people operating it are doing it properly. The permit is available for review on the Environment Agency’s website.