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Rubbish could soon power our homes

NEWCASTLE’S household waste could be turned into fuel in a plan to avoid a multi-million-pound penalty for missing targets.

NEWCASTLE’S household waste could be turned into fuel in a plan to avoid a multi-million-pound penalty for missing targets.

All councils must hit EU and UK Government goals for diverting rubbish away from landfill and the city council could face a charge of up to £5.5m if it fails.

A scheme going to the council’s executive late next month investigates how 40,000 tonnes of non-recyclable waste a year can be routed away from landfill and instead be converted into energy.

A study tour by councillors, officers and representatives of city environmental pressure group Ban Waste has visited Norway, London, Hampshire and the Midlands to see technologies at work.

Newcastle’s options revolve around:

Turning waste into gas which can then be burned to provide energy;

Using high-temperature steam to “cook” and clean waste, leaving a fibrous material that can be used as roof tiles or fuel.

Turning waste into fuel pellets and burning them instead of coal for industrial uses such as cement kilns.

Another area to be explored is burning waste to give energy. But it is very unlikely an incinerator would be built in Newcastle to deal with only 40,000 tonnes of refuse a year. Any incineration option would be more likely to use waste company Sita UK’s Teesside incinerator.

The proposals recommend the council talks with industry providers about what type of technology will suit Newcastle’s long-term needs. If approved, the scheme should be working in two years’ time.

Council executive member for environment Wendy Taylor said: “This is a vital decision for Newcastle’s future that will mean we no longer have to rely on burying our rubbish.

Shaun Burn with the wheelie bins that will be issued
Shaun Burn with the wheelie bins that will be issued

“The first phase of our waste management strategy, which involved introducing blue bin recycling and brown garden waste bins to homes across the city, has been a real success – increasing recycling rates by more than a third. We are now beginning the work of finding a sustainable solution for the waste we cannot recycle.”

The council is replacing a kerbside black box recycling collection service with bigger blue wheelie bins, which include cardboard recycling. It has so far converted six of its eight waste collection rounds to the blue bin system, which will cover 110,000 homes. About 55,000 households also have brown garden waste bins. Garden waste is composted at a council site near Walbottle.

Organic waste, such as food, is separated from rubbish at the old Byker incinerator site and sent to a Sita plant at Ellington in Northumberland for composting. The wheelie bin refuse which remains at Byker – 40,000 tonnes a year – is the subject of the new proposals.

The council’s current recycling rate is 33%, with the rest going to landfill.

The city’s target is to increase recycling to 43% by 2009-10 and 55% by 2020 and to cut waste by 15% by 2020.

Even if these targets are met, the city will be 38,000 tonnes short of landfill goals, which would translate into a £5.5m penalty in 2020.

Plan to help save land

WASTE management company Sita UK has won planning approval for a new plant on Teesside which will burn waste to create energy.

The £120m project at Haverton Hill, Billingham will deal with up to 250,000 tonnes a year, producing enough electricity to power homes in a town the size of Hartlepool. It will sit next to the site’s incinerator.

This plant deals with 250,000 tonnes and an extension is planned which will add 140,000 tonnes of capacity. Sita is providing for a railhead so waste can go in by train. The extension is to take waste from Northumberland. Sita’s new integrated £13m waste site at West Sleekburn in the county opens in April.

The site, part of a 28-year deal with Northumberland County Council, will recycle up to 50,000 tonnes a year. It will also handle up to 70,000 tonnes of non-recyclable waste which will go to Teesside.

Sita Northumberland general manager Richard Hinchcliffe said: “The partnership is aiming for just 8% of Northumberland’s waste to be sent to landfill by 2012. That will make the county one of the greenest for waste management in the UK.”

Tricky target

UK and EU law requires councils to divert increasing volumes of rubbish away from landfill.

Using 1995 as a baseline, councils must divert 25% of that figure from landfill by 2010, 50% by 2013 and 65% by 2020.

The Audit Commission has said councils that miss targets could face “fines” of up to £7m a year.

The Government’s own landfill tax, currently £32 a tonne, is to rise to £48 by 2010. If councils exceed their landfill allowance, they could also face a penalty of £150 a tonne.

Cumbria County Council has estimated that, even at higher rates of recycling, hitting the 2013 target is unlikely.

The landfill tax alone will add £2m in costs for the council for each of the next two years, and if the council exceeds its landfill tonnage allowance, it could face penalties of £5.2m a year by 2013.

So, the council has approved a 25-year deal worth £700m to cut rubbish going to landfill by 80%. It has agreed to a deal with waste firm Shanks Group to turn much of the waste into fuel.

 

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