Reducing emissions from waste

Keeping plastic out of incinerators will help meet climate targets.

Stopping plastics from being incinerated is one of the key recommendations of an independent review of decarbonising the treatment of residual waste.

The report follows last year’s independent review of the role of incineration in Scotland, which recommended placing a cap on future capacity and led to Ministers putting restrictions on the development of further incinerators.

Report author Dr Colin Church has made several new recommendations to reduce the carbon impact of residual (or ‘black bag’) waste treatment infrastructure, including stopping plastic from being incinerated in Scotland.

In addition, he has recommended:

  • taking forward policies to reduce plastic production and use
  • promoting source segregation of all plastics, and implementing advanced sorting to remove plastics from black bag waste
  • using the heat from incinerators where possible, for example for homes and businesses

Dr Colin Church said:

“Incineration remains a more climate-friendly method of managing residual waste than traditional landfill, and more practical than any other currently available approach. However, without further action, this advantage will erode over a relatively short time. That is why my second report sets out a series of recommendations to improve the carbon impact of residual waste treatment, of which the most urgent and potentially most impactful is the cessation this decade of the incineration of plastic.”

Circular Economy Minister Lorna Slater said:

“I would like to thank Dr Church for this report, which will make an important contribution to ensuring that the management of residual waste in Scotland aligns with our greenhouse gas emission reduction targets.

“Of course, the best way to reduce harmful emissions from our waste is to prevent it from occurring in the first place. That is why we have already banned many of the most problematic single-use plastic products and will soon be presenting a draft Circular Economy Bill to parliament. This will establish the legislative framework to support Scotland’s transition to a zero waste and circular economy.”


Dr Church's report on Decarbonisation of Residual Waste Infrastructure in Scotland

Dr Church’s initial report, Stop, Sort, Burn, Bury, was published in May 2022

Many plastic items still enter residual waste stream, either through being placed in the wrong bin or because the specific items are currently difficult to recycle.

Following the first report, new national planning policy was introduced through National Planning Framework 4, which was presented to the Scottish Parliament in November.  This policy makes clear that the Scottish Government does not support the development of further incineration capacity in Scotland, with very limited exceptions.

A notification direction was introduced in November 2021, requiring local authorities to alert Scottish Ministers of new planning applications that involve incineration facilities, and remains in place.


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