UK: Updated Thermal Treatment Of Waste Guidelines

Last Updated: 12 February 2014
Article by Ailsa Ritchie, Stewart Maciver and Joanna Waddell

In January 2014 SEPA published an update of their Thermal Treatment of Waste Guidelines (the Guidelines). The previous 2009 version warranted an update due to the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009, the Industrial Emissions Directive and the Scottish Government's Zero Waste Plan. The Guidelines clarify SEPA's approach to consenting thermal treatment of waste facilities as a regulator under the Pollution Prevention and Control (PPC) regime. They also set out SEPA's role in the planning system where SEPA provides input at the strategic and local development plan stage and as statutory consultee in the planning application process. The Guidelines are considered to form part of the National Waste Management Plan.

The main changes in the updated Guidelines are as follows:

1. What was previously an obligation on applicants to consider the location of their development to maximise the opportunities for rapid energy uptake is now an expectation by SEPA that where heat networks and generators exist, any new development in the vicinity will be connected to these sources.

2. A Heat and Power Plan must be submitted with the planning application. This is not a new concept but the Guidelines have been updated to the effect that SEPA will not revoke a PPC Permit where the Heat and Power Plan fails due to "external factors such as withdrawal or delay of a proposed third party user or prevailing economic conditions". At application stage it may be difficult for developers to predict whether heat off-takers will be around several years down the line. The updated wording gives developers some comfort that in the event that there does need to be a change in heat off-taker, SEPA will work with the developer to create a revised plan. The requirements for a Heat and Power Plan are also now helpfully set out in the Guidelines.

3. Regarding the choice of technology for new installations, sufficient information must be included in the PPC application to demonstrate compliance with the relevant standard, whether the technology is new or already used in the industry. The previous obligation was to demonstrate that the technology was appropriate. The relevant standard is achieving at least 20% (gross calorific value basis) energy recovery as electricity and/or heat.

4. In circumstances where local authorities can demonstrate to SEPA that they have achieved recycling rates of over 50% there can be a reduction in the requirement for mixed municipal waste to be pre-treated. However this 50% level could change as it is currently the subject of further consultation. Regardless of the final recycling rate it is expected that the provisions of the Waste (Scotland) Regulations 2012 which came into force on 1 January 2014 and which require source segregation of key recyclables will facilitate a reduction in pre-treatment. Where recycling performance is low no such reduction in pre-treatment will be considered.

5. Following the source segregation and collection of key recyclables requirements introduced on 1January 2014 under the Waste (Scotland) Regulations 2012, there is now a ban on sending key recyclables to incineration.

6. Energy which is used in preparing fuel will count towards the energy efficiency targets and will not form part of the parasitic load.


Heat and Power Plans must contain details of how energy efficiency targets are to be met. The targets are QI 93 and 35% Indicative Energy. These targets have been revised in such a way that if the Indicative Energy target is not met but the QI target is met then overall the energy efficiency target is deemed to have been met.

The implications to the waste sector are that clarity has been provided of what SEPA's requirements are at application stage for Planning Permission and a PPC Permit for thermal treatment installations making it easier to include such requirements in planning a project. While it is important to be able to demonstrate to SEPA that there are facilities in the area that can benefit from heat generated by a thermal treatment plant, so making the plan robust, a change in heat off-taker a few years into the project will not mean that the PPC Permit is revoked, rather that SEPA will work with the operator while a substitute is found. Pre-treatment could well become less of a requirement for operators as source segregation of key recyclables is now a legal requirement and this should reduce project costs, which is a benefit. Some pressure is perhaps also removed from developers/operators by the changes to the way in which energy efficiency targets can be met.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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