Waste incineration

Updated 15th July 2022


Waste incineration aka waste-to-energy aka energy-from-waste. It includes Solid Recovered Fuel (SRF) and Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF). Waste incineration has become a preferred means of dealing with waste, including plastic. It pollutes the environment with noxious substances such as dioxins, reduces recycling, contributes to climate change as it is carbon intensive, is relatively expensive, and is a barrier to zero waste. Even with the application of the most developed air pollution control devices (APCD), there are a multitude of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in waste incinerator residues and flue gases.

The EU have recognised that waste incineration has no place in a sustainability agenda and are taking appropriate action. The UK government and Swindon Borough Council haven't. They continue to promote its use, tying us into contracts for years to come. In January 2022, Swindon Borough Council entered into a £58 million waste contract with Viridor. Viridor state on their website that, "society recognises that there are potentially valuable resources that we must all challenge ourselves to recover. By transforming domestic and commercial waste and recyclables into high quality raw materials and renewable energy we’re making a big contribution to improving the UK’s resource efficiency." There is no mention of the negative impacts of waste incineration, of the need to reduce the production and use of plastics and other toxic synthetic chemicals.

The contract with Viridor will mean that the SRF plant owned by Public Power Solutions at Cheney Manor will become defunct. When operational, Swindon's waste, including plastic, was dried and sent to eastern Europe to be burnt in cement kilns. This impacts on the health of local communities, as this article attests. Dioxins and furans are among the noxious chemicals released into the atmosphere. SRF requires energy to dry waste, transportation requiring further energy, before then polluting the environment. Swindon Borough Council claim in their draft carbon reduction strategy that the SRF plant was one of “a number of initiatives that continue to benefit the Council, its residents and the wider borough”. They also claimed in a video on the SRF plant (webm | mp4) that it is better for the environment than burying waste. We challenge those assertions. How is polluting the environment and contributing to climate change beneficial? Our council section provides further information on disinformation from the borough council.

A company called Rolton Kilbride were granted planning approval to build an incinerator at South Marston despite a well-supported local campaign called Stop the Keypoint Incinerator Project (SKIP). It cost Swindon taxpayers £95,000 to try and stop the project. Keypoint was intended to be a gasification plant. This is where waste is cooked to drive off inflammable gases which are then burnt in a separate chamber. It would require RDF for burning. Its future is uncertain, especially now with the new contract with Viridor and the closure of Honda, which it intended to provide with energy.

We support UKWIN's campaigns to introduce an incineration tax and for a moratorium on new incineration facilities. A system incorporating waste incineration must be phased out to develop healthy zero waste systems.

The contents of Swindon's dual purpose waste and recycling bins are not recycled. According to borough councillor Kevin Parry, "Each Parish collects it and takes it to Waterside as general waste. It is then taken to the waste energy plant at Avonmouth." In other words, items which the public believe to be recycled are being incinerated.

See the 'incineration' section of the library for further details.

Correspondence with MPs

  • Emails between Justin Tomlinson MP and Robert Ayres, chair of SKIP (Stop Keypoint Incinerator Project)
  • This resulted in a response from The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for DEFRA, Rebecca Pow MP.

  • Emails between Justin Tomlinson MP and Hollie Snyder, former co-ordinator of Refill Swindon
  • Emails between Robert Buckland MP and Ben Bell, co-ordinator of Plastic Free Swindon.
  • Awaiting response...

    We wrote to Mr Buckland in October 2021 informing him of an important Parliamentary debate regarding a petition calling for the end of fossil fuel subsidies and to start taxing all greenhouse gas emissions.