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Report Reveals a Third of Surrey’s Waste Incinerated With CO2 Emissions Uncaptured

Published on: 10 Aug, 2021
Updated on: 11 Aug, 2021

By Hugh Coakley

As a landmark UN report argues that global warming could make parts of the world uninhabitable, a report issued by Surrey Environmental Partnership (SEP) reveals that CO2 emitted from the incineration of 185,000 tonnes of waste is discharged uncaptured into the atmosphere.

The total amount of waste collected from Surrey’s households, tips, fly-tipping and street cleaning is 501,000 tonnes (2019-2020).

Library image of municipal waste.

Carbon dioxide levels in the air are now at their highest point for at least two million years and are destabilising the climate, according to the latest stark warnings from the UN on irreversible climate change.

But performance improvements are difficult according to SEP, who manage the waste from the 11 Surrey borough and district councils including Guildford. A spokesperson said: “At the moment, no commercial technology exists to remove carbon dioxide emissions. The only realistic alternative would be to send it to landfill where it would decompose to produce methane, which is significantly more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.”

Diagram from the Surrey Waste Report 2019-20.

The report by SEP issued in July 2021 for Surrey’s waste in 2019-20 also shows that around 21,000 tonnes of the waste collected goes to “unknown destinations” abroad.

SEP said the waste exporter is “…only obliged to report the country of destination and not the details of the processing facility. Therefore the name and address of the destination facility can sometimes appear as unknown.”

Excerpt from the Surrey Waste Report 2019-20.

A GBC press release (August 3) said Guildford’s glass, paper, cardboard and plastic waste were processed by Biffa, Britain’s largest waste company.

Biffa was fined £1.5 million after conviction in July 2021 for sending more than 1,000 tonnes of household waste to India and Indonesia, in breach of a ban on sending such waste to developing countries. This is the second time in two years Biffa has been fined for exporting household waste to a non-OECD country.

Other highlights from the report show:

  • 283,000 tonnes (56%) of Surrey’s waste is recycled, the majority of which, 85%, is processed in the UK.
  • 34,000 tonnes (6.8%) were sent to landfill.
  • 142,000 tonnes (65%) of non-recyclable rubbish was processed in the UK, the remaining 76,000 tonnes (35%) was sent overseas.
  • 84,000 tonnes of waste that could have been recycled wasn’t because it was put into black rubbish bins. Food waste at 42,000 tonnes was the biggest problem, paper and card was at 10,000 tonnes, textiles 9,000 tonnes, garden waste at 7,000 tonnes and plastic  6,000 tonnes.

Cllr Neil Dallen, (Epsom & Ewell Borough Council, Residents Association), Chairman of the SEP, said: “It is good to see that most of Surrey’s waste is processed in the UK. However, it’s a shame that so much material that could be recycled is still being put into rubbish bins.”

Comparison of waste rates between the 11 boroughs and district councils in Surrey.

Guildford produces around 40,000 tonnes of rubbish each year. It is the second-highest borough for recycling at 59.1%, behind Surrey Heath at 60.8%, and produces the second-lowest waste per person in Surrey at 322kg per year.

See also: Spotlight On Guildford’s Waste Operations Services.

Cllr James Steel

Cllr James Steel, GBC lead for Environment, was pleased that Guildford recycled the majority of waste collected but said: “We need to find ways of generating less waste – from making better use of food waste collection and composting, to buying less and making sure we choose reusable alternatives for drinks.”

Andy Geiss, Guildford Labour’s climate officer, said: “Given that GBC is paying for the waste disposal services, they really ought to know where it is going.

“Clearly the supermarkets are lagging behind the public in terms of the green policies they pursue. They need to get rid of packaging and sell more loose food.

“Another solution would be to drop charges at the council tips to deter fly-tipping, possibly even ending charges for businesses too.”

Sallie Barker

Sallie Barker, spokesperson for Guildford Conservatives, said: “Thanks to successive Conservative administrations, excellent officers in the Waste and Recycling Team plus the residents, Guildford is in the top 20 boroughs and districts in England for recycling.

“However, now is not the time to rest on our laurels; the council should work to get this even higher, and I know the Conservative group will be keen to help it do so.

“Recycling is a priority for the Conservatives locally and in government, as we are committed to a sustainable future. We are doing well so far, but we owe it to future generations to do even better in future.”

Mark Bray-Parry

Mark Bray-Parry, spokesperson for the Guildford Green Party, said: “It is a feature across the UK and the economy that our carbon obligations end at the border. It is clearly not the case.

“Councils should be working towards at least a 95% UK waste recycling target. For Guildford, that means looking at how we handle glass and paper/card recycling and looking to offer textile recycling.

“Targets which large organisations must meet are set by DEFRA annually. However, they are too conservative and only increase the overall recycling target from 72% in 2016 to 77% in 2022. DEFRA should be more ambitious in its targets.”

The Dragon has asked SEP for a reaction to the UN report on climate change, which calls for radical reductions in carbon emissions and Surrey’s incineration of waste.

Hugh Coakley is a member of Extinction Rebellion.

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Responses to Report Reveals a Third of Surrey’s Waste Incinerated With CO2 Emissions Uncaptured

  1. Julia Shaw Reply

    August 10, 2021 at 11:19 am

    How can Woking Borough Council not know where 26% of its recycling goes, when businesses in the UK have to know exactly where their waste is going, and that all the proper licences are in place?

  2. Martin Elliott Reply

    August 10, 2021 at 11:42 pm

    I wonder why Hugh Coakley’s affiliation to Extinction Rebellion, is not included in the headers as other Guildford Dragon articles?

    Editor’s response: The affiliation has been mentioned in other relevant stories but Hugh Coakley does not write his stories as an Extinction Rebellion member, which is why it is not by the byline, the affiliation is declared for reader’s information and evaluation. Also, his stories are all subject to editing where objectivity is checked.

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