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Lowering carbon emissions from waste

Waste and carbon emissions

Proper waste treatment and disposal is essential for maintaining a sanitary environment and protecting public health, but treating the rubbish left over after recycling (called “residual waste”) is a major industrial process and inevitably, as with all similar processes of this scale, produces greenhouse gas emissions.

The best way to avoid the greenhouse gas emissions associated with treating residual waste is to avoid creating it the first place and by re-using items as many times as possible. After that, recycling as much as we can and composting organic waste also helps to reduce the amount of residual waste sent to landfill or to energy recovery facilities like the TV ERF.

Landfill and energy-recovery remain the two most viable options for treating residual waste at scale and both contribute to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in different ways. Because residual waste consists of both organic and fossil-based materials (plastics), the organic matter rots in landfill and releases methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas. When the same waste is treated in energy recovery, the organic matter is treated as a renewable fuel, but the fossil-based material releases carbon dioxide.

Overall, however, energy-recovery releases significantly less GHG emissions per tonne than landfill and is subsequently the preferred option. It also offsets the need to generate energy elsewhere from fossil-based sources.

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Reducing carbon emissions from the TV ERF

Avoiding carbon emissions arising from the safe treatment of residual waste in energy recovery is challenging but the companies bidding to design, finance, build and operate the TV ERF are required to demonstrate how they will reduce carbon emissions from the operation year-on-year over the duration of the contract.

Making the process and facility as energy-efficient as possible, securing heat offtake and reducing the proportion of fossil-based materials present in the waste could all make a positive contribution towards reducing carbon emissions from the facility in future.

Recycling is a top priority for the seven partner authorities, who want to help their residents recycle as much as possible, which will help move more fossil-based plastic material into recycling and out of residual waste. In addition to each of the councils’ recycling strategies, major changes to recycling services across the UK are expected within the next few years and new policies aim to achieve a national recycling rate for municipal waste of 65 per cent by 2035 from approximately 45 per cent today.

The potential to capture carbon emissions

Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology enables industrial carbon emissions to be captured and stored rather than being released into the atmosphere. If this technology was used at the TV ERF in future, it could enable the TV ERF not just to capture its own emissions, but actually remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere – actively contributing towards national carbon reduction targets.

In October 2021, the UK government selected the East Coast Cluster (ECC) as one of the first two low-carbon industrial clusters to begin decarbonising the Humber and Teesside industrial regions from mid 2020s. Situated within the East Coast Cluster, if CCS is deployed at the TV ERF in future, carbon emissions from the plant would be captured on site and, using common infrastructure shared with other carbon-emitting projects within the East Coast Cluster, would be transported via pipeline to secure offshore storage in the Endurance aquifer in the Southern North Sea – operated by the Northern Endurance Partnership.

Although the TV ERF was not included in the first round of just three projects within the ECC to receive government CCS funding support, as announced by DESNZ in March 2023, the seven partner authorities remain interested in pursuing government-backed CCS funding support for the TV ERF project in future.

Find out more about Net Zero Teesside and the Northern Endurance Partnership