Non-recyclable waste grew by 4.5% during the pandemic last year increasing the arguments in favour of building a new incinerator in Belfast, a report has claimed.
The report was commissioned by Indaver, which wants to build the plant at Hightown Quarry, Newtownabbey with support from six councils.
But 10 Northern Ireland MPs have written a letter to Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon backing campaigners opposed to the project, which was granted planning permission by civil servants but has been the focus of challenges.
The £240m Becon project, first proposed in 2008, is backed by arc21, an umbrella waste and resource management body made up of six councils. It is opposed by residents and some representatives.
Residents have listed concerns about the visual impact, light and noise pollution, increased traffic of heavy goods vehicles and health implications.
A Department for Infrastructure spokesman said that “officials continue to work at pace and in line with planning policy on this application and when all statutory processes are complete, a recommendation will be brought forward to the Minister for her consideration”.
"However, the department cannot confirm at this stage when a recommendation will be made, and as the process is ongoing, it would not be appropriate for the Minister to comment on the individual planning merits or otherwise at this time."
Covid-19 had an impact on residual waste tonnages generated in Northern Ireland, according to the report by Tolvik Consulting, a market analysis company.
Total non-recyclable waste was 4.5% higher than in 2019 and total household waste was up 6.2%, the report found.
In total, 505.1 kilotonnes of waste was either sent to landfill or exported, while 501 kilotonnes was recycled, according to the report. Antrim & Newtownabbey, Belfast City Council, Ards & North Down, Lisburn & Castlereagh, Mid and East Antrim and Newry, Mourne & Down councils are all members of arc21.
An arc21 spokesman said: "Every year arc21’s councils collect over 15 million wheelie bins worth of rubbish which can’t be recycled.
"At present we largely rely upon landfilling this rubbish or exporting it around the world – practices that we need to dramatically reduce due to environmental and financial concerns.
“arc21 has brought forward plans for Hightown Quarry to develop facilities which are the right size to handle waste collected by our councils. It’s highly concerning that even with these facilities and a big jump in recycling rates, there will still be a 124,000-tonne deficit in Northern Ireland’s ability to manage its own waste by 2035.
"This is a huge problem. It’s now been over seven years since arc21 submitted its planning application – it’s time to let the planners make an evidence-based recommendation.”
Indaver director John Ahern said Tolvik’s report “confirms the need for a step change in how we currently manage our waste if we are to avoid a waste crisis”.