For the U.K., plastic waste incineration presents a major stumbling block in attempts to achieve net-zero emissions. According to an open letter compiled by a coalition of campaigners, an increase in plastic waste incineration will cause carbon emissions to increase. The letter outlines that the government’s push to increase incineration may lead to a CO2 emissions increase of 10 metric tons per year by 2030.
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Campaigners argue that most of the country’s emissions come from plastic incineration. An incineration increase means that the U.K. may not be able to achieve its goal of cutting carbon emissions to zero by the year 2050. Rembrandt Koppelaar, one of the open letter’s authors, said the government must intervene in the waste sector if it intends to meet net-zero targets.
“The UK will not be able to deliver on its net zero commitments unless the government intervenes in the waste sector,” Koppelaar said. Koppelaar added that to effectively manage plastic waste without the risk of emitting CO2 to the environment, the government must come up with a clear waste management policy. “Without a change in government policy, we can expect large-scale expansion of energy-from-waste incineration to lock us into an additional 10m tonnes of CO2 emissions per year by 2030, primarily from the burning of plastics.”
The campaigners included scientists and special interest individuals representing several organizations such as the Extinction Rebellion’s zero waste group, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, among others. In the letter, these groups asked prime minister Boris Johnson to put in place policies that target decarbonizing the waste sector by 2035.
Data supports the campaigners’ carbon emission fears. The amount of waste incinerated in the U.K. has more than doubled, increasing from 4.9 metric tons to 10.8 metric tons between 2014 and 2018. Even more concerning is that the country’s low-income areas are experiencing the highest incineration increase. A report presented to MPs last year found that incineration plants were three times more likely to be placed in low-income and ethnically diverse areas.
These areas may also face increased pollution due to unabated plastic waste incineration. As is often the case, this means marginalized communities will likely be exposed to the harshest repercussions of excess emissions.
Image via Stacie DaPonte