A report funded by the Scottish Government and the European Union has found that small changes in the composition of municipal waste could push the climate change emissions from Energy from Waste (EfW) plants above those generated in landfill.
It also pointed out that the increasing decarbonisation of electricity generation in the UK means that one can no longer deem energy from burning residual municipal waste in Energy from Waste plants, a “low carbon technology”.
A report comprising the analysis of six EfW plants
The report, titled “The climate change impact of burning municipal waste in Scotland”, was for Zero Waste Scotland and compiled by Michael Lengahan and Kimberly Pratt.
Published on 3rd October 2020 after being reviewed by the Scottish Waste Data Strategy Board, six Energy from Waste (EfW) plants were analysed:
- MVV’s Baldovie facility, Dundee
- FCC’s Millerhill energy recovery centre, Edinburgh
- Dunbar energy recovery facility, East Lothian
- Levenseat’s thermal waste treatment plant, West Lothian
- Viridor’s Glasgow recycling and renewable energy centre, Glasgow
- the Lerwick energy recovery plant, Shetland Islands (Shetland Council)
1. Carbon intensity doubled
The report revealed that burning residual municipal waste in Scotland’s EfW plants had an average carbon intensity of 509 gCO2/kWh in 2018, which was almost double the carbon intensity of the UK marginal electricity grid average for the same year.
Furthermore, the report stated that the EfW average would remain higher than the grid average even if the plants were converted to a Combined Heat and Power system, which indicates that EfW is no longer a low carbon technology option.
2. Composition responsible for higher EfW
The report studied the carbon impact of sending one tonne of residual municipal waste to an EfW plant versus sending it to landfill. It found that the average EfW impact was 15% lower than that of the landfill in 2018. However, it added that small changes in waste composition could potentially push EfW impacts above landfill impacts.
The report concluded with a discussion on how the results of the study had long-term implications for how policy decisions would be taken, and how improvements in publicly visible data can support the accurate real-time monitoring of the carbon impacts of waste burning in Scotland.
Three ways to stop food waste from ending up the landfill
It is true EfW plants have been relatively successful in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the residual waste. But we agree waste policies should be altered to take advantage of opportunities to accelerate the reduction of climate change emissions.
While we will leave the overall municipal waste management to experts, we want to bring your attention to how you (businesses and individuals) can combat food waste by not letting it end up in the landfill but by turning it into energy:
1. Use Anaerobic Digestion to produce biogas
AD is the process of breaking down food waste to produce methane-rich gas which can be converted to energy via CHP and the residual digestate material used as a high-quality natural fertiliser. Our systems, iD-R-250, iD-R-500, (aerobic digestion) and iD-R-5K (anaerobic digestion) help eliminate food waste across various sectors.
All they require you to do is implement these innovative technologies to unlock, drain and remove the water otherwise held in the food waste’s fabric and combine the calorific content in the food. Our systems then convert that waste into an odour-free and valuable stored energy form.
2. Extract the maximum value of each food item
Choose versions of food that can be recycled in eco-friendly ways. Consumers, for example, can ensure careful planning when buying food every week. Our lifestyle choices often give preference to getting a takeaway while the food in the fridge goes unused.
This way, more food waste is generated, and the planned meal gets spoiled. The leftovers end up in the rubbish. Food producers and grocery retailers, on the other hand, can reduce the packet sizes of food items so that people buy less and waste less.
It is essential to ensure everyone fetches the maximum value from the food they consume or sell daily.
3. Donate excess supplies
Ever since the pandemic led to an increase in stockpiling, many consumers have been unable to access the food items they require. Platforms such as OLIO and Snackpass have been incredibly helpful in redistributing food on a community level.
Supermarkets can join hands with such volunteer apps to collect food supplies and distribute them in soup kitchens and local charities.
Summing it up
Establishments need to take more responsibility and look at ways to cut down their food waste rather than rely on governments and organisations to work out what to do with it. While we don’t have a choice as to what happens to our food waste once it goes into the bin, we can pay more attention to what we are producing in the first place.