"We believe we can double the recycling of all plastics by 2020 to around 40%," said regional director Jan-Erik Johansson. But local authorities were also taking the initiative, he added, and investing in energy-from-waste (EfW) plants to deal with the non-recyclable fraction and, at the same time, avoiding landfill.
"If this trend continues, there's a good chance that around 40% of municipal solid waste could be going to EfW by 2020," he said.
Johansson cited the example of the Riverside Resource Recovery (RRR) plant, opened at Belvedere in Bexley, Kent, in May. The plant, which is operated by Cory Environmental, has a 585,000t input capacity and is capable of generating 66MW of power for the National Grid.
One local authority project director, who did not want to be named, agreed that higher recycling levels could be combined with investment in EfW. "We believe that combined heat and power is the standard that people should be striving for," he said. "Electricity generation helps to reduce costs, while district heating can help reduce carbon footprint."
But according to Johansson, the vision of some local authorities is not matched by central government, specifically the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). "DEFRA hasn't uttered a word about zero landfill having to include EfW," he claimed. "They're just keeping their mouths shut on this, even though at least 12% of household waste already goes to energy recovery."
Also 'keeping its mouth shut' is Cory, which declined to comment on either the role of EfW or on attitudes of central government towards the technology.
And, of course, central government cannot be blamed for everything. Cory is part of the consortium behind a successful bid to build and manage a new EfW plant outside King's Lynn, Norfolk. This is now reported to be the subject of a dispute between the county council, which favours this technology and borough councils, which advocate other forms of recovery.
Meanwhile, DEFRA ministers appear happier to be seen around plastic bottle recycling plants than EfW sites. Even though the Belvedere RRR is one of the largest facilities of its kind in Europe, it was a junior royal who carried out the official opening. According to Johansson, ministers are continuing to give it a wide berth.