Becon project: Delivering Northern Ireland’s waste strategy
A £240million integrated waste management facility is being planned for Mallusk … here, the people behind the project outline their plans.
Developers behind an ambitious plan to cut landfill waste and C02 emissions in Northern Ireland have described it as a 21st century solution for Northern Ireland’s waste.
The £240m Becon project is an important waste infrastructure project that is designed to meet an identified public need here in Northern Ireland.
In line with the Northern Ireland waste strategy and in response to the requirements identified by arc21, the public waste management group representing six councils in the east of Northern Ireland, the Becon Consortium has developed plans to build integrated waste management infrastructure at the Hightown Quarry site on the Boghill Road, Mallusk. The project is currently in the planning system awaiting a decision by the Infrastructure Minister, Nichola Mallon.
The arc21 councils are: Belfast City Council, Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council, Ards and North Down Borough Council, Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council, Mid and East Antrim Borough Council and Newry, Mourne and Down District Council.
The project will help these councils treat their ratepayers’ residual (largely non-recyclable) waste in a sustainable manner, avoiding the need to landfill or export this waste overseas, where it is currently used to fuel similar energy from waste plants abroad.
Northern Ireland must now 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 still 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 experts Tolvik Consulting has calculated that even if we achieve an ambitious recycling target of 65% by 2035 as per the agreed circular economy targets, NI will still produce over 500,000 tonnes of residual waste per annum that can’t be recycled. They confirm that even with the addition of the proposed arc21 integrated waste treatment facility on top of existing infrastructure that leaves a residual waste treatment capacity gap of over 124,000 tonnes by 2035.
This will need treated in a sustainable manner.
UN “code red” warning
The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) report has clearly outlined the scale of the challenge we all face when it comes to climate change – with the UN calling this ”a code red for humanity” moment. Importantly, this report also has identified that methane emissions make a significant contribution to current global warming and suggests that by reducing methane in the short-to-medium term we can buy the world extra time to tackle climate change.
It also confirmed that a major source of methane in our environment is from waste buried in landfills. Over a 20-year period this potent greenhouse gas is around 84 times more powerful in global warming terms compared to carbon dioxide (CO2). Yet in Northern Ireland we continue to landfill large volumes of our waste: last year over 240,000 tonnes of our household black bin waste was sent to landfill.
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. The UK Committee on Climate Change has also proposed a total ban on biodegradable waste to landfill by 2025. This coincides with concerns over diminishing local landfill capacity, which only further highlights the need for a local, robust and sustainable solution to treat this residual waste.
The Becon project will contribute to Northern Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions targets by the reduction of approximately 57,500 tonnes CO2 equivalent per year, relative to sending waste to landfill.
Equally, increasing our export of this waste abroad for others to extract its value is not a viable long-term solution either. Last year we shipped over 235,000 tonnes of NI last abroad, where most of it is used to fuel similar Energy from Waste plants there. 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. Export markets are also becoming more difficult due to increased costs and some markets effectively closing as countries prioritise their own waste. This doesn’t even consider the additional carbon footprint created to deal with NI waste abroad.
Boosting energy supplies
Security of energy supply in Northern Ireland is becoming an even bigger issue, and despite the development of renewable energy, primarily wind, it is recognised that there needs to be more diversity on the all-island electricity system that can deliver energy when the wind isn’t blowing. The Becon project will export 18 MW of electricity to the National Grid, enough to power 30,000 homes. It will also contribute 50,000 MWh per year to renewable energy targets, but because it offers continuous base load it will complement intermittent renewables such as wind, and therefore create a better security of supply in the system.
Redirecting current spend
In the absence of a sustainable solution, it is important to note that ratepayers across the six arc21 councils are already paying for their residual waste to be landfilled or exported abroad as short-term solutions. This Becon 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. In doing so it will deliver local jobs and investment and ensure we take responsibility for our own waste locally, all the time maximizing its value.
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 recycling target by up to 10% through extracting valuable materials from our black bin waste, and maximise the value from the remaining non-recyclable waste through energy creation.
The focus on a green recovery and sustainable infrastructure in the recent NI Executive Consolidated Covid-19 Recovery Plan provides an opportunity to view waste as a valuable resource that can drive economic development while also targeting the innovation needed to achieve net zero carbon. The facilities have been future proofed with the potential to enable a range of other valuable and innovative decarbonisation technologies such as hydrogen fuel production and district/industrial heating schemes, ensuring it delivers even more carbon reduction benefits locally.
The project offers a wide range of environmental, economic and social benefits, including construction and long-term jobs, diverting waste from landfill, reducing the environmental and economic impacts of waste being sent abroad and using money already spent on both these current solutions to fund this project.
It is hoped that recycling rates will be boosted by up to 10 per cent, and fossil fuel import reliance will be reduced, increasing the local security of energy supply.
Urgent action required
The arc21 project has spent over seven years in the NI planning system, during which it has been recommended for approval by three sets of professional planners including the independent Planning Appeals Commission. With the pressing climate emergency and the agreed circular economy targets, the time for a positive planning decision is now.
We have no time to waste.
Find out more…
People can find out more about the project on www.becon.co.uk