What are the alternative ways to treat non-recyclable waste?

We’ve thoroughly considered the alternatives for dealing with the volume of household waste produced by north London’s residents – which represents around three percent of the UK’s total.

Following wide-reaching public consultation with residents and engaging key industry stakeholders about the scheme, our technical specialists Ramboll carried out an extensive alternatives assessment. The assessment determined that replacing the existing energy from waste plant at Edmonton EcoPark is the most environmentally responsible way to deal with the challenge of north London’s non-recyclable waste in the future.

None of the alternatives provide a suitable or sustainable solution for the volumes of waste that need to be treated at Edmonton EcoPark. There are major limitations to each of the alternatives, all of which were carefully considered before energy recovery was determined to be the best option.

The alternative methods that were considered, and the reasons they were rejected, are summarised below.

  • Landfill. To protect our environment for future generations, it’s vital that we prevent landfill use in the future. Landfill would both cost more for north Londoners and would be worse for the environment, generating the highly damaging greenhouse gas methane, it would also cost more for north Londoners. Compared to landfill, our Project will save up to 215,000 tonnes of CO2 every year.
  • Making use of third-party energy from waste facilities where capacity can be found. This is not a long-term solution and would require transporting waste from north London to other plants, increasing bin lorry journeys, adding to London’s heavy road vehicle traffic and increasing the carbon impact of north London’s waste. It would also cost significantly more.

  • Advanced thermal heating (pyrolysis and gasification). This option involves the decomposition of waste at high temperatures. It is still unproven at the scale required to treat north London’s non-recyclable waste in the future. Only smaller capacity plants are in operation, and, even at this small scale, there have been several issues with existing plants.

  • Mechanical biologicaltreatment (MBT). MBT uses mechanical and biological processes to separate and sort waste. It is not a complete solution for disposing of non-recyclable waste, it is just a step before burning it. MBT produces a fuel which still has to be disposed of. It is neither proven nor used at scale in the UK, and to treat the volumes of waste in north London we would need two processing plants plus an energy from waste facility.

  • Anaerobic digestion and composting. This method is only suitable for food or organic waste when it is collected separately. We currently use this for treating food waste, but it is not a solution for treating non-recyclable waste.
  • Materials recycling facilities: The NLHPP will provide capacity to treat the recyclable and non-recyclable waste for north London. We are delivering flagship recycling facilities to help achieve a 50% target. These include a brand-new public Reuse and Recycling Centre and a new Resource Recovery Facility, are an important part of this strategy.

You can read the full alternatives assessment report here.