SCOTLAND is now burning almost as much of its household waste as it is sending to landfill, new figures have revealed.

SEPA released 2020’s household waste statistics on December 7, which also showed that household recycling rates have dropped across the country.

The statistics show a staggering 33.6% increase in waste being incinerated between 2019 and 2020 - an extra 152,000 tonnes burnt in one year.

In fact, almost a quarter (24.95%) of Scotland’s total waste was incinerated in 2020, compared to the 27% sent to landfill.

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It comes as 26 out of Scotland’s 32 local authorities saw their recycling rates fall, while six saw slight growth.

The Scottish Government said the closure of recycling centres during lockdown restrictions had a "major impact". 

Environmental campaigners have said this is a concerning development as incinerators contribute to climate change by emitting greenhouse gasses from the burned waste, and the impact of burning plastic can be particularly damaging.

Last month, the Scottish Government told planning authorities they must now notify Scottish Ministers of any applications or decisions involving incineration facilities, until the end of the review period.

The SEPA statistics show that there has been a distinct growth in incinerators being used to dispose of waste in Scotland. In 2011, only 70,134 tonnes of waste was burned, with the number falling a little and remaining low until 2014, when 118,678 tonnes of waste was incinerated.

In 2018, 220,792 tonnes of waste was burned, by 2019 this had grown to 453,738, and by 2020 it had reached 606,111 tonnes.

The biggest contributor to this total was the 497,544 tonnes (82%) of household waste incinerated by local authorities.

A total of 83,224 tonnes (13.7%) of ‘mixed and undeferrentiated materials’ were also sent to landfill, and 8,507 tonnes (1.4%) of ‘wood wastes’.

Meanwhile, 529 tonnes (0.08%) of vegetal (plant) waste and 16,307 tonnes (2.69%) of ‘other’ waste were also incinerated.

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It comes as the figures also showed household recycling rates have fallen by 2.9% to 42.0%, with 66,000 tonnes less material recycled than in 2019.

This is the worst result since 2013, which could be due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on services.

Out of the 32 local authorities only six, Dumfries and Galloway (+0.6%), Glasgow City (+4.9%), Na h-Eileanan Siar (+14.1%), Orkney Islands (+4.6%), Shetland Islands (+1.3%) and Scottish Borders (+3.6%), saw their recycling rates increase.

Even Angus Council, which had the highest recycling rate (57.9%) above the rest of Scotland’s local authorities, saw a drop from 59.1% in 2019.

East Renfrewshire, which had the second highest recycling rate (56.6%), still saw a huge drop from 67.8% in 2019.

Similar trends can be seen across the rest of Scotland’s local authorities such as in South Ayrshire, where recycling rates dropped by 2.4%, and Moray, where they dropped by 4.1%.

Kim Pratt, circular economy campaigner at Friends of the Earth Scotland said: “It is evident from the new data that Scotland has a huge incineration problem, which is currently increasing unchecked.

“This is unacceptable because burning waste contributes directly to climate change and valuable materials are lost to our economy.

“This rapid rise in incineration must be stopped. The independent review currently being conducted into incineration must provide the Scottish Government with an exit strategy from incineration.

“Unless Scotland can keep materials cycling round the economy rather than burning them, we have no hope of achieving a circular economy and reducing the environmental impact of our waste.”

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A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We have recently provided £20 million of support for local authorities to help them increase recycling and cut emissions. This is the beginning of one of the biggest investments in recycling in Scotland in a generation.

“The pandemic caused disruption to recycling services, including temporary closure of Household Recycling Centres. This appears to have had a major impact on local recycling rates.

“We want to see materials remain in use for as long as possible before they are recycled and will be introducing an ambitious Circular Economy Bill to help make that happen.

“As well as reducing and recycling, we must deal with waste effectively. That’s why we have initiated an independent review of the role of incineration, which will make sure it aligns with our emissions reduction targets.”