Britain may increase dramatically the amount of garbage, including plastics waste, it incinerates to create energy.
Government proposals, contained in a draft environment ministry document leaked to British Broadcasting Corp., call for greater use of incineration instead of landfill disposal.
Plastics industry leaders welcome the proposals, saying incineration for energy is an economical and environmentally sustainable means of recovering plastics waste too costly to process for recycling.
But any plans to expand the number and capacity of energy-from-waste incinerators in Britain are likely to meet vigorous opposition from environmental groups and local residents.
Previous plans for such plants either have failed or faced fierce local protests. Objections have focused on claims of potential health risks from toxic fumes, or claims that burning waste will undermine efforts to recycle.
The leaked document argues that energy from waste should play a greater role in gaining ``environmental value from waste resources.'' It suggests such incineration could handle more than 25 percent of the municipal waste stream in Britain by 2020, compared with the current level of just 9 percent, according to BBC.
But, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs document stresses the priority is to recycle as much garbage as possible. Even so, it argues that waste can prove a valuable resource when used to generate electricity and provide heating.
In the 100-page document, the government addresses likely arguments against more incinerators. It states that dioxin emissions from modern incinerators are small compared with other common environmental sources, including gas cookers and even fireworks, according to the BBC.
Current pollution regulations, primarily imposed by the European Union's Waste Incineration Directive, mean incinerator chimneys are cleaner than those of most other factories, the government document said.
Britain, which in 2004-05 recycled less than 23 percent of its domestic waste - one of the lowest rates in Europe - has 19 waste incinerators, many providing energy for industry and homes. The government is proposing to raise its targets to 40 percent by 2010 and 50 percent by 2020.
The British Plastics Federation has been pressing for more waste recovery through incineration to alleviate the pressure on landfills.
``Recycling [plastics] is important when it is environmentally and economically workable. For other plastic waste - for example, small packaging covered in food residue slung in the household refuse stream, or where you have a mixture of different plastics not worth separating out - costs are greater than the benefit of recycling.
``There, the best value is incineration with energy recovery,'' said BPF issues director Philip Law.
In the case of PVC, Law acknowledged that its waste when burned is perceived to create toxic fumes, but that concern is misplaced, he said. ``Innumerable studies done [on this] in the past in the U.S., U.K. and Germany show that the presence of PVC in an incinerator makes no difference to the level of dioxins or furans generated by burning,'' he said.
Law accepted that planning incinerators in Britain has become ``a political hot potato'' because of likely local protests, and politicians have steered clear of backing such proposals in the past.
Further education of the population is necessary to show the benefits of such waste disposal, and Britain needs to follow such countries as Denmark in improving the aesthetic appearance of plants. They also need to be sited out of residential areas and close to industry, which will benefit from the energy.
The leaked proposals, due to be released for consultation in February, were criticized by environmental group Friends of the Earth, whose United Kingdom base is in London.
FOE lists 12 areas of Britain where authorities are considering plans for waste incinerators, in half of which the proposals ``are being fought tooth and nail'' by local people.
``Incinerators are extremely inefficient generators of energy, producing more carbon dioxide per unit of energy than [an] old-fashioned coal-fired power station,'' said Brenda Pollack, the group's spokeswoman in southeastern England.