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The process of incineration of waste creates a number of emissions. As such, regulation of waste incineration is currently controlled by EU legislation, principally the Industrial Emissions Directive 2010. Under this legislation incinerators must operate under a permit regime based on Best Available Techniques.

In England, these permitting requirements are implemented by  the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales Regulations) 2016, as amended. An environmental permit will set conditions which limit the discharge to air, water and soil of specified substances.

EU legislation also provides for a “waste hierarchy”. It gives top priority to preventing waste in the first place. When waste is created, it gives priority to preparing it for re-use, then recycling, then recovery, and last of all disposal (e.g. landfill and incineration where there is no energy recovery).

In its December 2018 Resources and Waste Strategy the then UK Government said that “Incineration currently plays a significant role in waste management in the UK, and the Government expects this to continue.” The strategy also indicated that the Government may consider a tax on incineration, should other policies to incentivise recycling not deliver the required results. The forthcoming Environment Bill 2019-20 announced in the December 2019 Queen’s Speech is expected to include measures that aim to minimise waste and promote resource efficiency.

Incineration can be a controversial form of waste management. Proposals for new incineration facilities often face strong public opposition. Many environmental groups oppose incineration and there are also specific campaign groups, including UKWIN (UK Without Incineration Network). For example, UKWIN argues that, among other things, incineration is a barrier to a circular economy – preventing resources from being reused, depresses recycling, is a nuisance and gives rise to air pollution concerns.

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