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Baseline Report Annex E: Waste

Analysis of the UK's waste infrastructure which informs the Baseline Report for the second National Infrastructure Assessment.

Tagged: Energy & Net Zero

Sector overview

The primary role of the solid waste sector is to manage waste to protect public health and the natural environment. This includes household, industrial and commercial waste, construction and demolition waste, and hazardous waste.

Solid waste infrastructure supports the key functions of collecting, sorting and treating or disposing of waste. It consists of assets such as incinerators, anaerobic digestion plants, recycling plants, waste sorting facilities and waste trucks to transport the waste.

Waste and the Commission’s remit

The Commission’s remit covers the solid waste sector. This includes household waste, commercial and industrial waste, and construction and demolition waste. Wastewater is considered alongside the water sector (see Annex D: Water and wastewater).

Policy responsibility for waste is a devolved to the governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Commission’s remit covers England only.

Box E.1: Governance and regulation across the UK

Whilst there are differences in the specifics of policy measures, national priorities and strategies, the nations of the UK all share the aim to drive action further up the waste hierarchy and work towards a more circular economy. The waste hierarchy ranks waste management options based on environmental impact.1 In 2020, the four administrations of the UK published a joint statement under the Circular Economy Package which outlined how they will work together towards a circular economy and committed the UK to maintain or exceed environmental standards previously set in Europe.2

The regulators for waste in the devolved administrations are:

  • Natural Resources Wales
  • the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency
  • the Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland.

They are responsible for issuing authorisations in the same way as the Environment Agency in England – see below.

England generated 187 million tonnes of waste in 2018, including 120 million tonnes of construction waste,3 22 million tonnes of household waste,4 with the remainder from other commercial and industrial sectors.5 Local authorities manage household waste, and some other waste streams such as collections from street bins and some commercial waste collected by local authorities. In 2018-19, local authorities in England collected 26 million tonnes of waste.6

The total volume of waste produced in England has increased over the last decade (figure E.1). In 2010, the aggregate volume was around 170 million tonnes, which when compared to 2018 totals, shows a 12 per cent increase.7

Disposal methods vary for different waste types and material streams. While the construction sector generates the most waste, much of this is recovered.8 Part of this recovery will be through a construction process, known as backfilling, which reuses or replaces the soil that is removed during the excavation of foundations, along with ground bearing slabs and other groundworks used to support and strengthen a structure. While there are specific challenges associated with construction waste, this annex focuses on the performance of the local authority waste sector, where more consistent data are available. However, commercial waste and construction waste from other infrastructure sectors will be considered as part of the Commission’s work in the second Assessment (see Chapter 3: Climate Resilience and the Environment).

Local authority collected waste is disposed of via landfill and incineration, or processed through energy from waste, recycling and mechanical biological treatment (including composting and anaerobic digestion). General black bag waste is either incinerated (with or without energy recovery) or sent to landfill. Mixed recycling is sent to Materials Recovery Facilities (MRFs), to be sorted. Dry recycling such as plastic, glass, metal and paper is then sent to further recycling plants to be processed for future use. Food, when separated from other general waste, can go directly to compost or anaerobic digestion plants. Figure E.2 shows the mix of treatment methods for local authority collected waste.

Figure E.1: Total waste generation in England has risen marginally year on year

Total tonnage of all waste arisings in England from 2010-2018


Chart showing total tonnage of waste produced in England each year since 2010

Source: Defra (2021), UK statistics on waste

Figure E.2 Local authority collected waste is increasingly going to recycling and energy from waste rather than landfill

Treatment of local authority collected waste, England, million tonnes, 2000-2020


Chart showing falling levels of waste going to recycling in England

Source: Defra (2021), ENV18- Local authority collected waste: annual results tables9

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Status:  Completed

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