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Edinburgh City Council Midlothian

Frequently Asked Questions

Below is a list of the most frequently asked questions about Zero Waste: Edinburgh and Midlothian. If you cannot find what you are looking for, please feel free to contact us.

Q: What is Zero Waste Edinburgh and Midlothian?
A: Zero Waste Edinburgh and Midlothian is a partnership between the City of Edinburgh and Midlothian Councils which aims to secure a better way of dealing with the food waste and the mixed (residual) waste they collect. At the moment, any waste that is not recycled just goes to landfill. Within the next few years, landfill disposal of biodegradable waste (e.g. food waste, garden waste, paper, cardboard and wood) will be banned. There will also be a Scotland-wide target to send less than 5% of all waste to landfill for disposal.

Q: Why can't the Council just continue to send all our rubbish to landfill as before?
A: There are four main reasons why we've got to tackle this issue.
1. Sustainability. It makes sense to recycle and recover value from the rubbish we throw away rather than use new materials every time we make something. It's about preserving the Earth's valuable and limited resources.

2. Climate Change. When we dump waste that rots, such as food, garden waste, paper and cardboard, it produces methane which is a greenhouse gas over 25 times more powerful at heating the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. It's widely accepted now that these gases contribute to climate change, so we must act to reduce them as much as possible.

3. Landfill space. This country, in common with many parts of Europe, is simply running out of suitable holes in the ground. This means that waste is being transported over longer and longer distances and so using more energy and emitting more carbon dioxide.

4. Cost. Collecting and disposing of waste in landfill sites is becoming ever more expensive. That's why it makes sense to reduce, reuse, recycle and recover value in order that the amount of waste that has to be disposed of is kept to a minimum. Creating energy from the remaining waste is also expensive but it diverts nearly all of it from landfill by converting it into reusable materials while at the same time producing valuable electricity and heat.

Q: What will the additional cost of all this new waste treatment be?
A: In addition to the cost of sending and disposing of waste in landfill sites the Councils are paying very high levels of landfill tax. The cost of these new waste treatment facilities can be met from the Councils existing landfill budgets.

Q: Why spend time and money on waste treatment when increasing recycling will do a lot more to help Scotland become a zero waste society?
A: Waste reduction, reuse and recycling will remain the highest priority for the Councils but there will always be waste that has not or cannot readily be reduced, reused or recycled at source, or for which there is no market or outlet. For such residual waste, it is better in both environmental and economic terms to treat it centrally to recover energy from it while recycling whatever we can in order to reduce landfill disposal to less than 5%.

Q: Shouldn't the Councils do more to prevent waste and reduce packaging?
A: More waste could be prevented if individuals consumed responsibly and bought more wisely, so we all have a part to play. Where possible, Councils aim to reduce, reuse and recycle both the waste they produce themselves and the waste they collect. They promote waste awareness and the use of home composters to reduce household garden waste. As for packaging, we feel that manufacturers and retailers should do more to make sustainable longer-lasting products, and to use recyclable materials when packaging is a necessity, but Councils have very limited powers to enforce this. Scottish Government will have to work with the UK and EU authorities to make this happen. However, this is a long-term goal, so we have to be practical and plan for the reality of dealing with packaging waste until then.

Q: Will this project make a difference to kerbside collections?
A: No. The Councils want to keep on increasing their kerbside recycling rates as far as possible and the waste treatment contracts will not interfere with this. The Zero Waste Project will just deal with whatever amount of food and residual waste the Councils collect in a way that supplements their ongoing efforts to 'reduce, reuse and recycle'.

Q: What alternatives to landfill have been chosen and how many plants will there be?
A: There will be two facilities. An Anaerobic Digestion (AD) plant to produce energy from food waste is currently under construction and, subject to planning permission being granted, a combined heat and power (CHP) plant to recover energy from residual waste will also be built. Outputs from both facilities can be recycled with less than 5% going to landfill.

Q: Where and how was the site for these facilities chosen?
A: Former railway land next to the Millerhill Marshalling Yards in Midlothian was identified as most closely meeting the required criteria for new waste treatment facilities when compared to all other potential sites being considered by the Councils. An independent site search took into account a wide range of factors when comparing and scoring the suitability of the various possible options, including proximity to the source of the waste, the nature of the surrounding land and properties, and the transport links.

Q: Why should Edinburgh's waste come into Midlothian for treatment?
A: A partnership with City of Edinburgh makes sense because Midlothian does not have enough waste to justify building treatment facilities for its waste alone, and in terms of proximity to where their combined waste arises, the Millerhill site is ideally located close to the boundary between the two partner Councils. Also, by having these facilities sited in Midlothian, it will provide a range of opportunities for the local area to benefit significantly.

Q: What size will the plants be and how will they blend in with the surrounding landscape?
A: The food waste treatment plant will resemble a collection of agricultural silos next to a waste reception building. The residual waste treatment plant will appear as a large industrial building resembling a conventional power station. For this reason, a series of workshops has been held, involving Midlothian Council Planning and Landscape Officers, Scottish Natural Heritage, and Architecture and Design Scotland, to ensure that design features are included that are sympathetic to the area.

Q: Will there be an odour from the facilities nearby or further downwind?
A: No. Odour control, like other aspects of air quality, is strictly regulated by the planning and permitting regimes. Modern waste treatment plants are self-contained, purpose-built facilities which enable waste processes to be managed in a way that unpleasant odours should not be detectable outside the site boundary. Refuse collection vehicles bringing waste to the site will only discharge their loads inside a reception building which has rapid self-closing, automatic shutter doors, negative pressure ventilation, air handling equipment and bio-filters. No waste will be stored or treated outside.

Q: Will the facilities be noisy when in operation?
A:  No. Mitigation measures and noise limits are specified as planning conditions. As part of the Environmental Impact Assessment, existing background noise levels were recorded and then used to determine what on-site noise limits would be acceptable to neighbouring properties, based on predicted likely noise emissions during both the construction and operational phases. This assessment showed that the predicted impacts from construction noise will be negligible and from operational noise will be negligible or minor.

Q: Will the plants be operating 24 hours a day?
A: The composting part of food waste processing and the thermal treatment part of residual waste processing are continuous, 24-hour processes, although they will barely be detectable outside the site boundary. The more intrusive waste delivery and pre-treatment activities will be covered by planning conditions and will mainly occur during normal working hours.

Q: Surely the production of energy from waste is bad for the environment?
A: Any treatment of waste, including 'natural' composting or even recycling of waste into new products, will produce carbon dioxide, a 'greenhouse gas' capable of adding to global warming. At the moment, residual waste, including any food waste not separated for collection, is merely dumped in landfill sites where it produces methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Some of this can be captured, but a significant amount still escapes to the atmosphere, so it makes sense to divert the food and residual waste away from landfill and instead use it to produce energy in ways that completely eliminate the release of methane. Electricity and heat produced from waste also reduces the need for energy to be produced by burning non-renewable fossil fuels (coal, oil or gas).

Q: Will emissions impact the health of those living around the facilities?
A: Health Protection Scotland published a report in 2009: "Incineration of Waste and Reported Human Health Effects" which presents their most recent evaluation of research on the subject. It concludes that the evidence for non-occupational adverse human health effects is inconsistent and inconclusive. Indeed, modern energy-from-waste facilities are built and operated to very much higher standards than even in the recent past, and more stringent regulatory controls in place to make sure any emissions are well within prescribed limits.

Q: Will hazardous wastes be treated at these facilities?
A:  No. The AD plant will only treat food waste and the residual plant will only be consented to treat household waste and similar commercial wastes. If any hazardous waste was delivered to the facilities, there are strict procedures in place to isolate it and have it removed for treatment or disposal at a suitably licensed facility elsewhere.

Q: What additional traffic movements will be generated?
A: The current proposal is that the majority of waste will be delivered directly to the site in the waste collection vehicles. Together with the import and export of other materials associated with the processes, this could mean around 70 trucks entering and leaving the site on a daily basis (20 to the food waste facility and 50 to the residual waste facility). The overwhelming majority of these movements will be scheduled to avoid peak traffic hours.

Q: There are railway lines close to the site, so why not use rail transport?
A: Rail could potentially be used to transfer waste or products to and from the site but the travel distances for Council-collected waste are very short, the waste would still have to be delivered to a central, rail-connected point, a direct rail siding into the Zero Waste site would have to be created, and there would be extra costs associated with the loading, transporting and unloading of railway wagons.

Q: How many jobs will be created?
A: The food waste plant will have 8 full time employees, and a residual waste plant of the scale proposed at Millerhill typically generates around 300 short term construction jobs and around 40 long term operational jobs.

Q: Will the public have an opportunity to see detailed plans of the facilities?
A: Yes, if you missed the public consultation events, you will be able to view all the planning application documents on Midlothian Council's website.

Q: Where can I get more information on the project?
A: You can call the Zero Waste: Edinburgh and Midlothian project team on 0131 529 6276, email:, visit:, or follow us on