SEPA has issued new Guidelines on the Thermal Treatment of Waste which update and replace those produced in 2004 and have the objective of ensuring that recovery of energy from waste is maximised as well as ensuring that new and existing thermal treatment facilities don't impede the prevention or recycling of waste. The Guidelines apply to all municipal and commercial and industrial wastes (excepting hazardous wastes).

What the Guidelines say

In summary, the Guidelines state that thermal treatment facilities should:

  • "Only treat residual waste (i.e. waste remaining after all efforts have been made to extract recyclable materials), in order not to impede recycling and waste prevention efforts;
  • Be part of an integrated network of recycling and composting and other waste management facilities; and
  • Recover and use the energy derived from waste efficiently."

The Guidelines provide developers and their advisors with a Planning and Permitting framework as well as technical standards (described below) that need to be met in order to operate lawfully. The Guidelines state they are also relevant to the co-firing of biomass and waste. In this context, "biomass" includes:

  • Primary biomass – grown for energy production purposes;
  • Secondary biomass – produced as a consequence of faming and forestry, where these are not deemed to be wastes; and
  • Tertiary biomass – waste biomass.

Planning Aspects

Recent reforms to Scotland's Planning system include a requirement that the views of certain agencies be sought in the preparation of strategic and local plans. The Guidelines will act as an instrument for local authorities and other, relevant agencies such as SEPA in assessing policy and strategic issues as well as site-specific proposals. They narrate several key planning principles to be applied to the assessment of strategic issues and site specific planning applications for thermal treatment facilities. The principles are listed at section 2 of the Guidelines and, in summary, are:

  • The proximity principle – an assessment of how close a facility or proposed facility is to the source of the waste that it treats;
  • Capacity and need – A developer is required to submit information on the need for a new facility in the area proposed;
  • Site selection – A developer must show why one site has been favoured over other sites. This information is likely to be found in an Environmental Statement that might have been produced in respect of a proposed development;
  • Treatment of residual waste only – a developer should demonstrate how they will ensure that the waste to be treated at the facility will comprise waste which has been subject to "all efforts extract recyclable materials."
  • Recovery of heat and power – the ability of a facility to recover power and heat is likely to assist in the planning and permitting process. Traditionally, heat has not been recovered to a significant extent although this is partly due to the lack of heat distribution networks.
  • Demonstrate the proposed development is the "best practicable environmental option" – guidance on this point is available from SEPA;
  • Provide a life cycle analysis – an analysis often covering the following: "global warming impacts; eutrophication; acidification; abiotic (non-living) resource depletion; and toxicity to humans and freshwater aquatic life"; and
  • The relationship between the planning application process and SEPA's environmental permitting processes is emphasised. Developers will need to furnish the planning authority with sufficient information to enable SEPA to comment on a planning application. Consequently, the Guidelines recommend developers contact SEPA at an early stage in order to harmonise the planning and environmental permitting aspects of their proposal.

Environmental Permitting Aspects

The majority of facilities that are subject to the Guidelines have environmental permits to operate under the Pollution Prevention and Control (PPC) Part A regime. There are others, which are of a smaller size or due to the type of waste they treat, that are permitted to operate under PPC Part B or the Waste Management Licensing scheme. The Guidelines state that due to the existing regulatory framework, SEPA are unable to impose recovery of energy or energy efficiency related conditions in PPC Part B Permits or within waste management licenses. Consequently, references in the Guidelines to PPC Permits/Licenses are to PPC Part A Permits/Licenses and not to environmental licences in general.

However, the Guidelines also state SEPA's desire that facilities which are not or will not be permitted under the PPC Part A should still refer to the Guidelines as it is SEPA's belief that energy recovery and efficiency (and consequent carbon capture) are relevant matters for consideration during the planning process and, consequently, apply to such facilities.

The Guidelines list a number of non-exhaustive, key points which should be covered in a PPC Permit application:

  • Submission of an Environmental Impact Assessment;
  • Demonstrate that the technologies to be used comprise Best Available Techniques;
  • Provision of a detailed list of waste types and amounts to be treated;
  • Demonstration that waste to be generated on site will be minimised or recovered. Where this isn't possible, waste must be disposed of in such a way as to avoid or reduce any significant impact on human health or the environment;
  • It should be shown that rate of energy recovery from waste is as high as possible and that the power and/or heat generated will be used efficiently.

PPC Permit applications for new or substantially altered facilities will be subject to public consultation once received by SEPA. Further consultation will be required once SEPA reaches a decision on the Permit application. Refusal of a Permit or the grant of a Permit subject to conditions can be appealed by the applicant.

Standards of Energy Efficiency/Recovery required under the Guidelines

New waste thermal treatment facilities: SEPA expects new facilities, upon commencing operation, to achieve the minimum energy efficiency as described in the Quality Assurance for Combined Heat and Power (CHPQA).

Existing waste thermal treatment facilities (or plants already with planning consent and under construction): SEPA expects operators to submit a Heat Plan, where practical, to show how an energy efficiency equal to or over those listed in Table 1 of Annex 1 of the Guidelines will be achieved in "the shortest practicable time."

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.