Temporary ban on Environmental Permits for New Energy from Waste Plants in England

England and Wales

On 4th April 2024 Defra issued a direction to the Environment Agency placing a temporary ban on the issue of any new Environmental Permits for Energy from Waste Facilities (EfW) in England.

The direction issued under regulation 62 of the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2016, temporarily pauses the determination of environmental permits for new waste incineration facilities, including Energy from Waste and Advanced Thermal Treatment. The direction applies to proposed developments that do not yet hold an environmental permit for waste incineration, regardless of whether they hold planning permission from the relevant planning authority. The direction does not apply to permits for hazardous or clinical waste incineration facilities, small waste incineration plants, incinerators seeking a permit variation for an existing environmental permit, significant permit variations for incinerators seeking to develop carbon capture and storage provision, or facilities whose primary purpose is the recycling of materials (i.e. the reprocessing of waste materials into products, materials or substances). The intention of the direction is to cover facilities with the primary purpose of energy recovery, either directly through power, gasification, or conversion of residual wastes to a fuel. The temporary ban will last until 24 May 2024, but this could be withdrawn earlier.

The rationale provided in the direction is that further expanding England’s waste incineration capacity risks delivery of the Government’s policy and environmental obligations including reducing the volume of waste sent to disposal (including EfW). The direction provides that the temporary ban will allow a short period for DEFRA officials to lead a piece of work considering the role of waste incineration in the management of residual wastes in England.

A more permanent ban would bring England in line with Scotland and Wales where moratoriums on new EfW facilities have been in place since 2022 and 2021 respectively.

The direction has come as a surprise given the lack of prior consultation with the industry and trade associations including the Environmental Services Association (ESA) and raises questions as to why DEFRA has not undertaken adequate analysis on EfW Capacity in England prior to issuing a direction to the Environment Agency to pause the issue of any new Environmental Permits.

Whilst a temporary pause is unlikely to materially impact any projects that are already in the pipeline, investors and developers in the EfW sector who have already spent significant sums obtaining planning consents for new EfWs will be concerned to understand the longer-term impact of this intervention by DEFRA. It also seems at odds with other recent announcements on support for waste to fuels plants including using residual waste to produce Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF).