Myth takes: it’s greener to incinerate paper than recycle it

Myth takes: it’s greener to incinerate paper than recycle it

by Peter Jones


When people want to argue that this whole recycling lark has gone a bit too far, they often regurgitate a peculiar factoid: that, on a careful analysis of the pros and cons, incinerating waste paper and card to generate energy has greater environmental benefits than recycling it.

However, it’s time that this claim was put to bed. It’s an unrealistic approach to the issue, and if it ever was true in the UK, it isn’t now and won’t be in future.


Labouring under a misapprehension?

I’ve come across it a couple of times recently. It surfaced in the Daily Express in August 2016, as they joined a confused flurry of outrage about the rise in household recycling rejects. They published a comment piece that asked ‘Is recycling waste nothing more than a waste of time, amongst whose extraordinary claims was the following:

“Waste disposal policy has failed because it is based on ideology. Back in the late 1990s, egged on by EU directives, the Blair Government decided, in the absence of any proper research on the matter, on a hierarchy of waste.

Recycling, it ruled, was always preferable to burning waste, which in turn was always preferable to landfill. Targets were set and councils given incentives to recycle as much as they could….

But not all recycling is of benefit to the environment. When the Blair Government did finally do some proper research on the impact of various different forms of waste disposal it came up with a surprise finding: that when it comes to paper and cardboard we would be better using it as a fuel – incinerating it in plants and using the heat to generate electricity. This is because the recycling process consumes a huge amount of energy.” 


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