The Waste Hierarchy and Energy from Waste

Beston waste sorting machine

The waste hierarchy has been fundamental in designing national strategies and policies that move the UK away from its dependence on landfilling. After minimising the amount of waste that is produced in the first place through waste prevention and reuse, the next priority is to recycle as much useful material as possible from the waste that is unavoidably generated. Respecting the waste hierarchy means that energy is recovered from waste after secondary materials have been removed for recycling. Only after extracting the maximum value from waste (both materials and energy) should the remaining waste be disposed of safely.

Energy from waste does not act as a disincentive to materials recovery and recycling. Evidence from Europe indicates that high recycling (including composting) rates can be sustained alongside high energy recovery rates.

Municipal Solid Waste Recycling Sorting Machine
Municipal Solid Waste Recycling Sorting Machine

The fact that Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands have the highest contributions from EfW(energy from waste) in Europe, but also show the highest recycling rates is proof that both recycling and energy from waste can co-exist without the latter crowding out the former. In the UK, Energy from waste currently makes one of the lowest contributions to the total waste management solution, but this contribution could be much higher with the introduction and support of additional energy from waste technologies.