Independent review of the role of incineration in the waste hierarchy: Scottish Government response

Our initial response to Stop, Sort, Burn, Bury? - the recommendations of the independent review of the role of incineration in the waste hierarchy in Scotland.

1. Introduction

1. Scotland is moving away from our current 'take, make, and dispose' model of the economy towards a circular economy, where we move we keep materials in use. But while we make this transition, we will still produce residual ('black bag') waste, which cannot be reused or recycled.

2. Scotland currently produces around 4.5 million tonnes of residual waste each year[1]. Although this will decline as we move to a fully circular economy, we need to ensure that how we treat this waste aligns with our emissions reduction targets and minimises any other environmental impact.

3. That is why we committed to undertake a review into the role of incineration in the waste hierarchy in Scotland (the Review), setting out this commitment in our Programme for Government[2] and reaffirming it in the Bute House Agreement between the Scottish Greens and Scottish Government[3].

4. The Scottish Government appointed Dr Church in November 2021 as Independent Chair to oversee the Review.

5. As Independent Chair, Dr Church determined the detailed scope of the review within defined parameters set by the Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity. These were to prioritise an analysis of national capacity requirements; consider the societal impacts of residual waste treatment, including health and community impacts; and consider how emissions from existing infrastructure could be reduced and residual heat may be reused.

6. Dr Church set out to answer five overarching questions for the Review in the context of the treatment of household and commercial and industrial waste streams. These waste streams were chosen as the Review considered them likely to be captured by the forthcoming ban on sending certain biodegradable waste streams to landfill, they comprise a large proportion of waste incinerated, the incineration of these waste streams has increased significantly since 2013[4], and municipal waste incinerators are often the object of stakeholder concerns. The five overarching questions were:

1. Given Scotland's waste management ambitions and current progress towards these, what capacity is required to manage residual waste in Scotland?

2. What are the options for managing residual waste?

3. What are the economic, environmental and social trade-offs of those residual waste management options?

4. How do we decide where capacity should be located, and in what form?

5. What can be done to improve existing residual waste treatment facilities in terms of carbon performance and societal impacts?

7. To answer these questions, the Review considered existing evidence and commissioned additional capacity modelling, an appraisal of waste treatment options and a rapid evidence review of the potential health impacts of incinerating waste. Additionally, the Review opened a Call for Evidence and held a range of stakeholder events and meetings which allowed all organisations and individuals with an interest in incineration to submit written and verbal evidence and considerations for the Review.

8. Stakeholders were clear that the Review should be concluded as quickly as possible to avoid lengthy impacts on planning and investment decisions, and to avoid delaying Scotland's transition towards a circular economy. Dr Church, therefore, agreed to deliver his report before Easter.

9. Dr Church delivered his report[5] to Ministers on 13 April 2022 and we published this on 10 May. Publication of the report was deferred until after the local government elections on 5 May, given the potential for the Report's findings and recommendations to raise issues that could be of particular local interest.

10. While the report provides provisional recommendations to decarbonise existing residual waste treatment infrastructure, further research has been commissioned in this area, as outlined in Dr Church's Call for Evidence[6]. At the request of Ministers, Dr Church has agreed to extend his role to provide independent oversight of this work. Dr Church will provide independent oversight of this work and carry out further stakeholder and industry engagement, with a view to a second report being submitted to Ministers in December 2022.

11. Chapter 2 provides a summary of the Review's findings and recommendations and Chapter 3 sets out how we will respond to the 12 recommendations and our initial response to the two provisional recommendations.



Back to top