The Challenge and Opportunity
Northern Ireland must manage its waste in a more environmentally responsible and sustainable way. Despite our notable success at achieving over 50% recycling after decades of effort and investment, we are currently landfilling or exporting over 400,000 tonnes of residual NI household waste per annum – that’s the waste that cannot be economically or sustainably recycled. This doesn’t even include additional commercial and industrial residual waste and together this waste must be treated somehow. A recent market report from the UK’s leading waste exports Tolvik Consulting has calculated that even if we achieve an ambitious recycling target of 65% by 2035, NI will still produce over 500,000 tonnes of residual waste per annum which can’t be recycled. This will need treated in a sustainable manner.
We are in a climate emergency and continuing to use landfill for this waste is not an option, – a point regularly emphasised by the UK Climate Change Committee. Over a 20-year period, the methane gases released from landfill are an 84 times more potent Greenhouse Gas than Carbon Dioxide. Recognising the harmful nature of this there is now a maximum landfill cap of 10% coming by 2035 as part of the agreed Circular Economy targets. This coincides with an existing local landfill capacity issue which only further highlights the need for a local, robust and sustainable solution to treat this residual waste.
Equally, increasing our export of this waste abroad for others to extract its value is not a viable long-term solution either. The increasing financial, environmental and reputational costs of doing so make it entirely illogical, particularly when at the same time we continue to import fossil fuels to meet our local energy needs.
In the absence of a sustainable solution ratepayers across the six arc21 councils our already paying for this residual waste to be landfilled or exported abroad as short-term solutions. This project will redirect this spend to deliver a robust long-term and sustainable local solution which will give Councils more financial control and which will result in a council owned asset.
Recycling will continue to be a major focus of Northern Ireland’s and arc21’s waste management strategy with a target of 65% for household recycling by 2035 as per the new Circular Economy Targets. It has taken over 20 years for NI to achieve a recycling rate of 50% and it is recognised that reaching 65% is not going to be easy. The integrated infrastructure proposed by Becon will directly contribute to this ambitious target and maximise the value from the remaining non-recyclable waste.
While looking at the best ways of dealing with waste, Northern Ireland also has targets to produce more electricity from renewable sources and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – with the target of net-zero carbon by 2050. The Becon Project supports both these agendas.
It is vital that we develop alternative solutions and the necessary integrated infrastructure to deal with our waste and maximise its value locally, just as they have been doing across the rest of the UK and Europe for decades. Using all our waste efficiently and effectively and treating it as a valuable resource will help meet these targets and support a ‘green recovery’ as well as the transition to a Circular Economy. The project can also play an important part in enabling other exciting decarbonisation technologies such as hydrogen production, district and industrial heating and energy storage. These additional opportunities are currently being explored with various partners.
This website outlines proposals to develop an integrated waste management facility to serve the arc21 area. The area that arc21 covers encompasses 59% of the population and accounts for nearly 60% of Northern Ireland’s municipal waste. Delivering these plans will bring us into line with other European countries and contribute to a more sustainable, resilient, and self-sufficient society. It will signify a positive step forward for waste management in Northern Ireland, help improve recycling rates, contribute to meeting our circular economy, renewable energy, and net zero carbon emissions targets and benefit our economy and the environment.