Controversial £1.2bn plant in North Yorkshire has never met its recycling targets

Environmental concerns have been raised over the performance of a controversial £1.2bn waste recovery plant that processes rubbish from across North Yorkshire and York, after it emerged the centre had never met its recycling targets since being launched.

A meeting of North Yorkshire County Council’s transport, environment and economy scrutiny committee heard councillors question whether the Allerton Park Waste Recovery venture with AmeyCespa to recover recycling and food waste from black bag rubbish and incinerate the remainder had turned out to be fundamentally flawed.

Peter Jeffreys, Head of Waste for both York and North Yorkshire councils told the meeting, since Allerton Park operations launched in March 2018 “it’s been a slighty rocky start”, but there were a lot of positive signs that the plant was moving in the right direction.

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He said the councils were paying £3 less per tonne of waste than was forecast before the plant, which takes 220,000 tonnes of public waste and 50,000 tonnes of business waste annually, became operational.

Allerton Waste Recovery Park

A report to the meeting detailed how the councils had set a target of recycling or composting five per cent of the household waste it received, but the amount actually recycled or composted had remained between one and two per cent.

As a result of missing the targets the councils levied AmeyCespa with a total of £653,000 in performance deductions for the first three years of the operation alone.

Mr Jeffreys said: “Whilst we are levying those reductions it doesn’t give us any satisfaction. We would far rather they hit the targets that we didn’t recover the financial penalties.”

The meeting was told as the plant separates recyclables from residual waste the quality of the product is necessarily poorer than recyclables collected separately from households, and at times of over-supply recycling re-processors had chosen higher quality materials over poorer quality ones.

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It has meant despite the materials being separated at they cannot be placed into a market.

Amey has said it is continuing to explore new outlets for recyclable material extracted from the waste stream and have sent a number of trial loads to different facilities over recent months.

Mr Jeffreys said the environmental targets had been missed partly due to the mechanical treatment part of the plant had not been reliable. He said Amey had reconfigured the plant to push more materials through the mechanical treatment process.

He said Covid had led to staff shortages, which had seen the mechanical treatment area bypassed on some occasions.

In response, some councillors questioned whether the system was proving as much as a success as had been forecast when the scheme was approved amid a public outcry.

Councillor David Goode said the situation did not appear as positive as the council was making out, having missed key targets since the operation launched.

He said he was “struggling” with the initiative, bearing in mind the authority’s carbon reduction strategy, the government’s revised policies over waste management and the drive towards reducing reliance on single use items.

Coun Goode said: “And then I look at a 25-year contract that seems to encourage us to maximise that amount of waste we are putting through to get the financial returns that we’re looking for and a government strategy that seems to indicate we would have to fundamentally change the nature of the contract that we have currently got.”

Mr Jeffreys said the authority was not “incentivising maximising waste”, but rather was finding a good end destination for business waste that could otherwise end up in landfill.”

He added the could be an opportunity to disaggregate technologies and use them to meet new government requirements, such as collecting food waste.

The committee’s chairman, Councillor Stanley Lumley concluded: “Allerton waste plant was very controversial when it was going through the process of council and planning. I think it’s proved to be a fantastic asset for North Yorkshire.”

The council’s waste executive director Councillor Derek Bastiman said after visiting the site he was encouraged to see the amount of cardboard and plastic that was recovered from general waste.

He said: “It’s still the families that need educating on keeping their waste clean, whether that’s plastic bottle or cardboard. If they did that then we could recycle more than we do. If families could just be a bit more considerate when disposing of their waste that would certainly help with our figures.”