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UK Government urged to abandon waste incineration as report warns of consequences

22 May 2017

  • Report warning of the consequences of burning rubbish is launched ahead of the World Waste to Energy and Resources Summit in London. 
  • Tearfund calls on the government to end waste incineration and lead the world in recycling and reusing.

International development charity Tearfund is calling on the UK government to lead the world in abandoning waste incineration after a new report highlighted the dangers of continuing the practice.

‘Smoke Screen’ has been published as industry experts gather in London for the World Waste to Energy and Resources Summit. 

It explains how burning rubbish is actually a net contributor to climate change, creates demand for more waste and in many cases emits harmful particulates that are banned under the Stockholm Convention. 

The report warns that incineration is being wrongly touted as a clean energy solution that also solves the waste issue “despite damning evidence of the damage caused to people and planet”. 

Industrial-sized incinerators are spreading across the developing world including Africa where waste is a mounting problem and where pollution impacts will likely be much worse. 

Already there are more than 2,200 plants in the world with the industry predicting a further 600 opening by 2025. 

The report reveals how governments around the world actively promote the practice despite the World Health Organisation, the World Bank and the European Commission all discouraging it.

It also outlines how incineration threatens the livelihoods of between 15 and 20 million of the world’s poorest people. 

For example, many hundreds of Ethiopia’s poorest people face losing the only source of income they have as work continues on a huge incinerator in Addis Ababa. 

Waste pickers at the Koshe dump were hit by a further tragedy on 11 March 2017 when at least 113 people died in a landslide which also buried their makeshift homes. 

Joanne Green, Tearfund’s Senior Policy Associate, said: “This report highlights the serious health and environmental effects that are associated with burning our waste.

“As the report outlines, it is so vital that world governments put their full focus on creating an economy based around recycling and reusing. Not only would this provide huge health and environmental benefits but also, as the figures show, big financial benefits.” 

The report says that “waste pickers point to a radically different approach… the circular economy.” This would be a regulated industry where workers can safely collect and sell recycled goods with the dignity that they are providing an invaluable service.

Tearfund is the first international development charity to campaign for the circular economy, where discarded products and materials are mostly reused, repaired or remanufactured. 

The report outlines how “this shift is critical if we’re to release developing nations from aid dependency”. 

It adds: “By formalising informal sectors such as waste pickers’ work, they can deliver real benefits to some of the poorest people on the planet: better jobs in much safer, healthier conditions.”

Details in the report, from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, reveal that if India was to embrace the circular economy, its greenhouse gas emissions would be 44 per cent lower by 2050 and it could generate $624 billion a year. 

It recommends the UK Government uses Brexit as a means to set the country as a global leader in creating an economy that uses increasingly scarce resources efficiently in how we design, manufacture, repair, reuse and recycle products thereby reducing pollution and creating jobs. 

Joanne Green added: “With the UK preparing to leave the European Union this is a great opportunity for the country to lead the world in creating healthy and green societies less dependent on aid. 

“Building economies that focus on reusing and recycling instead of throwing things away will be better for our health, our pockets and the poorest people in the world.”

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