Less landfill for Lancashire's waste - but what will take its place?

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More of Lancashire’s waste could be burned in future as part of plans to reduce the county’s reliance on landfill.

Lancashire County Council is set to begin the procurement process for a £600m contract that will determine how its non-recyclable rubbish is disposed of for at least 15 years.

Around half of the 400,000 tonnes of so-called ‘residual waste’ in the region is treated at processing plants at Farington and Thornton – where 96 percent of it is kept out of landfill by extracting recyclable material which has not previously been separated out and using the rest to create refuse-derived fuel and compost.

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However, there is no such facility in the east of the county – meaning that non-recyclable waste from that area goes to landfill.

Lancashire County Council introduced extra sorting of waste at its Farington processing plant to extract more recyclable materialLancashire County Council introduced extra sorting of waste at its Farington processing plant to extract more recyclable material
Lancashire County Council introduced extra sorting of waste at its Farington processing plant to extract more recyclable material | jpimedia

County Hall’s landfill contract ends in 2025 and the authority is now beginning the search for one or more providers to “thermally treat” its residual rubbish – and only bury waste that cannot be treated in any other way.

Papers presented to cabinet members state that the council will seek “a technology which is proven in terms of both its operational and environmental performance”.

Conservative council leader Geoff Driver said that the proposed arrangement would “not impact on our desire and ambition to meet government targets for recycling”, adding that the plans were deliberately non-specific at this stage about the process which would eventually be adopted.

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“Not only is there a lot of technology out there, but it is developing all the time and we want to make sure we can take full advantage of that,” he said.

Labour opposition leader Azhar Ali was broadly supportive of the plans, but warned that residents would want reassurance that the thermal treatment did not equate to the traditional concept of incineration.

“This has all the potential to be a great success or very controversial amongst some of the communities we serve,” he added.

There are several methods of thermal incineration currently available, including combustion, gasification and a thermal degradation process known as pyrolysis. Cabinet papers reveal that new thermal treatment infrastructure could be developed within or outside of Lancashire.

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For the duration of the proposed contract – which could be extended to run through until 2050 – between 250,000 and 300,000 tonnes of residual waste a year is expected to be generated. However, members were warned that Lancashire could be left without sufficient treatment capacity if it does not manage to reduce the annual volume form the current 400,000 tonnes.

Speaking after the meeting, Preston West Liberal Democrat county councillor John Potter urged caution before the authority commits itself to a long-term contract.

“I'm happy to be moving away from landfill, because that’s the worst thing you can do with waste – but burning it is still the second-worst option.

“I accept that we will need some incineration capacity, but this looks like we’re expecting only a 25 percent reduction in our waste by 2050, which isn’t good enough – the country

is supposed to be carbon neutral by then.

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“The devil will be in the detail with the contract, but committing ourselves to burning that amount of waste probably isn’t the way forward,” County Cllr Potter added.

There are currently three energy from waste incinerators with planning permission in Lancashire – at Ribbleton in Preston, Heysham and Blackburn.

Local authorities are expected to recycle half of their rubbish by the end of this year, rising to 65 percent within 15 years.