Energy from waste: A wasted opportunity?

In this report, we focus on the benefits of the UK creating an Energy from Waste network which would help power the nation and reduce the need for landfill.

With the UK producing over 300 million tonnes of waste a year – enough to fill the Royal Albert Hall every two hours – and our love affair with landfills soon coming to an end, we could shortly be up to our necks in waste with, apparently, few options for tackling the problem.

The mantra we generally hear is "recycle it". But is recycling always the best solution? Not if there’s no demand for the recycled materials. Not if more energy is consumed and more greenhouse gases are emitted in the recycling process than would be used to manufacture a new product. Not if we don’t actually recycle but instead just sort the waste into piles of different materials and then ship those piles overseas with no control over what happens to them after that.

The UK quickly needs to find sustainable and secure sources of energy, using reliable, well-proven technologies. And to have any chance of minimising the impacts of global climate change, countries such as the UK must finds ways to meet their material and energy needs while cutting rapidly and significantly their greenhouse gas emissions.

Key recommendations

  1. The government should review its energy strategy and make EfW a key component in energy production, with the added benefit of avoiding waste to landfill.
  2. The government should promote and encourage investment in district and community heating projects with local ‘waste’ being used as the fuel resource. Appropriate targeting of such schemes could help to eliminate energy poverty in the UK within a generation.
  3. The government should redefine waste as an energy resource, allowing the new Department for Energy and Climate Change to focus on its optimal use.
  4. The government should abandon its focus on recycling as the only way to rid us of landfills. This is quite unachievable and is clearly deceiving the public about what is really happening to their waste.
  5. Recycling should only be for waste products which cannot be more sustainably converted into electricity, heat and/or transport fuels.


All reports and policies

Browse all our reports, policy statements, consultation responses and presidential addresses

View all

Have a question?

Contact our press team.