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Making Things Last - A Circular Economy Strategy for Scotland

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9. Energy Recovery

9.1 Our ambition

Our ambition is to have an energy from waste infrastructure that effectively manages the "leakage" from a more circular approach to the economy in Scotland without creating demand for materials that could otherwise be kept in higher value use. We want to ensure that energy recovered from waste supports, directly, high quality heat and power schemes.

9.2 Context

Energy can be recovered from waste products in two key ways: through anaerobic digestion of organic materials which retains nutrients as part of a circular economy; and through the creation of heat and energy through thermal treatment of non-recyclable waste. These approaches can provide valuable heat and energy to communities, business and industry.

In a circular economy it is important that thermal treatment (including incineration) of non-recyclable waste is recognised as having a role limited to recovering energy only where materials cannot be retained in higher value use. However, materials used in this way have to be replaced. So while thermal treatment plays an important role in diverting non-recyclable materials from landfill, it is important to ensure that, in line with the waste hierarchy[22], we exhaust all options for retaining the value of those materials before concluding thermal treatment is the best option.

Thermal treatment has a continuing role in addressing demand for energy during transition to a more circular economy. In the longer term, there will be a more limited role, albeit with an appropriate level of capacity to reflect the success of a more circular economy.

We want to avoid the situation arising in some nations where overprovision of energy from waste infrastructure presents a barrier to a more circular economy by creating a demand for material as a feedstock that could otherwise be reused, remanufactured or recycled.

Where thermal treatment plants are required, we wish to see only high quality combined heat and power schemes developed. As with other thermal electricity generation plants these should be located where there is a demand for heat to make the most of our resources, while minimising environmental impacts including meeting Scotland's high standards on air quality. This is supported by a regulatory framework through planning, Pollution Prevention and Control regulations on the use of waste heat and by programmes such as district heating support for local authorities.

SEPA produces annual figures of waste infrastructure capacity needs for a variety of technologies including thermal treatment infrastructure. This provides a guide to the waste management industry, investors and local planning authorities as to the likely level of required infrastructure.

9.3 Our priorities

Given the limited role of thermal treatment in a more circular economy, our priority is to ensure that long term decisions on waste infrastructure are as well informed as possible. We are keen to have a coherent, over-arching discussion on the requirements for infrastructure and services with industry, local authorities and other partners.

We will work, with SEPA and Zero Waste Scotland, to continue to improve the way that we provide and present information on the anticipated capacity requirements for future waste infrastructure, for use by planning authorities and industry - helping ensure the capacity of waste infrastructure developed, such as thermal treatment facilities, is appropriate.