General FAQ


A: Energy-from-Waste (EfW) is a process that recovers the energy content in non-recyclable household and commercial waste with similar properties, by using it as a fuel in a modern largely renewable electricity generation facilities. The waste is delivered to combustion chambers where it is combusted at high temperatures and reduced to 10 percent of its original volume. The heat generated from the combustion chambers heats up water in steel tubes that form the walls of the combustion chambers. The water is converted to steam and delivered to a turbine that continuously generates electricity and is delivered to the local households and businesses. 
A: EfW is a proven waste management solution used extensively worldwide. There are 780 facilities around the globe safely converting more than 140 million tons of waste per year into electricity. Countries that extensively utilize EfW include; Sweden, Germany, Denmark, Netherlands, Switzerland, France, United States, Singapore, Japan and the UK. Many new facilities are being planned in Europe, Asia and North America.
A: EfW is a sustainable solution and plays a part in the circular economy by generating energy and recovering metals and aggregates for recycling; burying waste in a landfill is not sustainable. When waste is buried in landfills it decomposes and generates methane. Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas (GHG), over 30 times more potent than CO2. Therefore, with the objective of addressing climate change, the European Union has issued a directive to limit the landfilling of biodegradable municipal solid waste to 35% of the quantity landfilled in 1995. EfW is a net reducer of greenhouse gas emissions because it does not create the methane that landfill produces, in addition to offsetting the need to burn fossil fuels in power plants.

A: Modern EfW plants in England can only operate with an Environmental Permit from the Environment Agency (EA) under the Pollution Prevention and Control regulations. Other parts of the UK have their own respective agencies with similar powers. Operators must continuously monitor in real time and report emissions from the plant. The EA inspect facilities regularly and tightly enforces regulations. Importantly, Public Health England reviewed the latest scientific evidence on the health effects of modern incinerators and concluded in its position paper (3rd September 2009), that any potential damage from modern, well run and regulated incinerators is likely to be so small that it would be undetectable.

The UK’s Environmental Services Association (ESA) puts EfW emissions into context, stating ‘in 2015 home wood burners generated 785 times more particulate matter, while road traffic emitted 45 times more NOx, and Bonfire Night alone produced 10 times more dioxins than EfW across the whole year.’

A: As opposed to open burning and wild fires, the facility will use state-of-the-art emissions controls to capture and control particulate matter. Operating like a very efficient vacuum cleaner, the filters in the baghouse remove 99.5 percent of the particulate matter from combustion gases.
A: In December 2017 there were 40 operational EfWs in the UK with a further 2 in commissioning. (Source: Tolvik Consulting, UK Energy from Waste Statistics – 2017)
A: Energy-from-Waste (EfW) is an important part of an overall integrated waste management approach, recognized in the European Union waste management hierarchy as preferable to landfilling for those materials remaining after waste reduction, reuse, and recycling efforts have been exhausted. After recycling takes place, EfW facilities recover energy from remaining waste materials in an environmentally sound manner. While doing so, EfW facilities reduce the need for fossil-based energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions relative to landfilling.
A: The circular economy aims to keep products, components and materials at their highest utility and value at all times. In this way, “waste” does not have to be wasted, but rather may be used as an input for another process. Just like the waste hierarchy, waste reduction, reuse and recycling should be prioritized, but for remaining materials, energy recovery has an important role to play. Nearly every step of a circular economy requires an energy input, and recovering energy from leftover waste can help meet this need. In addition to Energy Recovery, over 80% of the post-combustion ash arising can be used as a construction material, further contributing to recycling.
A: No, EfW does not interfere with recycling. In fact, experience and data collected in both the European Union and the U.S. have shown that EfW and recycling work very well together. In the European Union (EU), EfW and recycling have grown together because of policies that minimize landfills. The European Environment Agency states, “There is no evidence to support [the argument that] incineration of waste with energy recovery hinders the development of recycling.” The EU countries with the highest recycling rates all use EfW extensively to process waste left over after recycling.
A: An Environmental Permit regulates the way all UK EfW facilities operate and set strict requirements in line with EU and British legislation. The permit is available for review on the Environment Agency’s website.

Rookery South Energy Recovery Facility (ERF)

Site Selection and Facility Design

A: The Rookery South site, located within the Northern Marston Vale Growth area, was chosen after an extensive search in this region. Covanta originally looked at over 340 sites and Rookery Pit South was considered the most suitable. The site is an appropriate location to develop the Project because:

  • It avoids those areas most protected by policy e.g. Greenbelt;
  • It is accessible by a suitable road network, and offers the potential for rail transport in the future;
  • It is capable of providing enough space to avoid local adverse environmental impacts;
  • It is centrally located enabling the required waste management and energy supply capacity to be provided in a strategically advantageous position;
  • It’s located in a former clay extraction pit which is around 10 metres lower than the surrounding land which will reduce the facility’s visual profile; and
  • The Marston Vale is expected to see significant levels of new housing and industry development.  This increases the opportunity for the facility to supply homes and businesses with low carbon steam or heat from the facility.
  • Rookery South is identified in Bedfordshire’s Minerals and Waste Local Plan as a potential site for development of waste treatment and disposal facilities.
A: No, the Rookery South will be capable of treating over 500,000 tonnes of residual waste per year. There are larger EfW facilities operating in the UK which process greater volumes of residual waste fuels.

A: The ERF will convert over 500,000 tonnes of residual waste per year into over 60 MWe of electricity. That’s enough electricity equivalent to meet the needs of 75,000 homes, or, to put this into context, the Rookery South facility will capable of powering a town larger than Bedford which has around 70,000 homes.

The Rookery South Pit site is 95 hectares and the ERF will occupy approximately 10 hectares of the total area. The ERF location and orientation is designed to keep the visual impact on the surrounding area to a minimum and to also reduce potential noise. The presence of the ERF was reduced further through the selection of a single combined stack as it appeared a more elegant feature than the three stack option which emphasised the stacks within the landscape. The height of the ERF is also at the lower end of the range when compared with other UK EfW plants.

A:  At its highest point the main facility building will be 50 metres tall. The stack is required by the Environmental Permit to be 105 metres tall. Due to the geography of the Rookery South pit, which is approximately 10-15 metres below the surrounding ground level, this will leave around 90 metres of the stack visible and above ground level.
A: No, the Rookery South facility will not be bigger than Wembley. According to Wembley Stadium’s own website, the internal volume of the stadium up to the roof, but excluding the arch, is 4 million cubic metres, which is some six (6) times that of the ERF.
A: The ERF has been carefully designed to take account of its location in the former clay extraction pit of Rookery South.  During the facility’s planning process engineers carried out a detailed Flood Risk Assessment and specifically designed key areas of the building (e.g. the waste bunker and turbine hall) in a manner to ensure they would be unaffected by expected flood levels and exceptional flood conditions which may occur once in every fifty years.

Rookery South Pit has a permanent pumping station operating on demand to prevent accumulation of water and flooding.
A: There will be significant volumes of heat/steam which cannot be used to generate electricity. This is available to customers should this be economically viable for both parties.

Integrating heat off-take into the facility would further increase the plant’s efficiency and put available waste materials to even better use. While we do not currently have a heat off-taker in place, we have already had enquiries from potential heat off-takers for both district heating and commercial applications. We are keen and ready to engage with all interested parties who wish to discuss their requirements with us.

Waste for the Rookery South ERF

A: Veolia will supply municipal, commercial and non-hazardous industrial residual waste from surrounding areas.
A: Covanta and Veolia have researched the transport options on how residual waste could be brought to the Rookery South ERF. Rail has been considered as part of this study, but currently this is not viable. It remains a future option should suitable contract opportunities arise. We will also periodically assess the feasibility in having waste delivered by rail which our planning approvals also require us to do. A Route Management Plan has also developed to ensure that waste haulers do not travel through local settlements such as Stewartby, Marston Moretaine and Ampthill. Further information on the waste transport options is detailed in the Non-Technical Summary and Preliminary Environmental Report.
A: In 2016, the UK landfilled 15.7 million tonnes of municipal waste. In addition, due to the closure of many landfill sites and insufficient EfW capacity, the UK exports approximately 3 million tonnes to other European countries for EfW treatment.

Even with a significant increase in recycling with robust recycling markets, there will continue to be residual waste that will need EfW treatment. The UK has a significant shortage of energy-from-waste treatment capacity and the Rookery South facility will provide much-needed treatment capacity for household and non-hazardous commercial and industrial waste.

In the future this need is likely to escalate as availability of the export market decreases and cost of export increases.
A: No, the Rookery South ERF can only accept residual household, business and non-hazardous industrial waste from UK sources. Commercial and Industrial (C&I) waste arises from the business sector, such as factories, shops and offices and the composition of residual C&I waste is very similar to household waste left over after recycling. No hazardous or medical waste will be accepted or processed at the facility. Importantly, the types of waste that the Rookery South ERF can accept are clearly set out in the Environmental Permit.
A: No, residual waste will not be transported in from hundreds of miles away or imported from Europe. Veolia will supply the majority of the non-recyclable municipal, commercial and non-hazardous industrial residual waste from within a radius of around 60 miles. surrounding areas.

Construction and Operations

A: It is anticipated that construction will commence in 2018 and be operational by 2021. Once construction starts, we expect the build and commissioning phases will take approximately three years from start to finish.
A: Today, modern energy-from-waste plants such as the Rookery South ERF can operate for thirty (30) years or more. In the United States, Covanta operates over 40 energy-from-waste facilities, many have been efficiently and safely managing waste and generating clean energy for more than thirty years.
A: Yes, the facility will operate 24/7, but there will be restrictions on waste delivery hours. Much of the plant’s operations will be carried out inside the building, which prevents and mitigates the amount of noise that could be audible externally.
A: During the planning process, noised was carefully considered and assessed using computer modelling of the proposed building and equipment. The companies are using Government guidance on environmental noise, together with other standards, to establish suitable noise standards for the ERF. The computer model’s calculations have been compared with the standards and where targets would not be met, modifications to the layout and design of the facility have been made. The resulting noise mitigation has included the specification of high-performance acoustic framed-openings with movable slats and quiet condenser fans. Initial calculations of construction noise indicate that this will be well below recommended criteria. The preliminary assessment for operational noise indicates that the predicted noise from the facility will be generally below the target. The initial assessment of changes in traffic noise on the wider road network shows only small noise increases on all of the links.
A: No. Waste that cannot be recycled will be delivered by road to the tipping hall into the facility where it will be tipped into a bunker within the building. The building will operate under a negative air pressure which prevents air and odours from escaping. The facility will be subject to strict monitoring by the Government’s Environment Agency.
A: After combustion, the volume of waste is reduced by 90%, leaving an inert ash and metal. Residues from the treatment process such as fly ash and spent lime will be transferred to an offsite processing plant. The remaining bottom ash will be reused in the construction sector as an aggregate material and metals will be sent to an offsite location where they will be recovered and sorted for recycling. Fly ash collected in the air pollution control equipment will be stored in silos and removed from site in sealed containers by a licensed contractor.
A: Yes. The metals will be removed from the residual bottom ash for recycling. After combustion has taken place at the facility, we are able to recover metals from the remaining ash for recycling. In total, Covanta’s facilities recycle approximately 550,000 tons of both ferrous and non-ferrous metals. That’s enough steel to build more than 400,000 automobiles and sufficient aluminium to manufacture more than three billion beverage cans. Recycling metal from EfW facilities avoids a tremendous amount of greenhouse gases and recovers valuable natural resources that would have otherwise been lost in landfills.

Employment and Supply Chain Opportunities

A: The project will create more than 300 jobs during construction, with around 60 new permanent roles within the plant, including apprenticeships, during operation.

During the peak construction period, the project will employ over 600 construction operatives.
A: Covanta and its principal contractor want to source locally wherever possible. The Rookery South ERF will provide supply chain opportunities for local businesses to bid for contract work on the project which will enable local business to meet with procurement specialists in advance of contacts being let. Further information will be published on the Rookery South website and Covanta will be promote supply chain opportunities in the local media.

Community Benefits

A: We recognise the importance of being part of the wider community. Covanta was an early adopter of a Community Outreach and Environmental Justice policy, which guides our approach to working with our communities. The same applies today as Covanta and Veolia recognise the importance of being part of the wider community. At Rookery South Pit, we propose to put in place a series of community benefits. From the beginning, several ways were identified to contribute to the local community. These included the development of a Community Trust Fund and a dedicated Forest of Marston Vale Trust Fund. The reconnection of rights of way within Rookery South Pit was also identified as a way in which to enhance the area. As part of the consultation process, Covanta was asked to work on a wide variety of community gain activities from the reduction of household bills to the improvement of village halls. Currently, Covanta and Veolia propose to provide the following:

  1. Electricity Subsidy Scheme (unique in the UK) for around 9.000 households
  2. Community Trust Fund (£150k initial before COD/then £50k/year)
  3. Education and Visitor Centre
  4. Footpath and cycle path enhancements enabling improved access to Rookery pit
  5. Marston Vale Trust Fund (Initial £250k, then £50k/year)
  6. Contribution to Bedford & Milton Keynes Waterway project (Design £200k/Construction £3.175 million) – enabling a linking part of the ‘jigsaw’ to be put in place
  7. Millennium Country Park planting scheme (trees and shrubs to the value of £32.8k)
  8. Employment and training opportunities (apprenticeships)
    1. Around 320 construction jobs
    2. Around 60 new operational jobs
    3. Indirect employment via local suppliers including catering and accommodation during construction
  9. Level crossing safety upgrade funded by Covanta
  10. Restoration of the Rookery South pit to a beneficial use
A: Originally established in 2008, the Rookery South Community Liaison Panel (CLP) plays a key role in the communications arrangements of the project, which have been put in place to ensure effective dialogue between Covanta, Veolia and local communities.

We value the views and opinions of our neighbours and look forward to building open and transparent relationships. If you would like to find out more or be involved in the CLP, please email us here. Alternatively, click on this link to find out more about the Rookery South CLP, previous meetings or minutes.
A: At over 30%, the electrical efficiency of the plant will be at the highest level currently possible for energy generated from waste and is comparable to coal and biomass fired power plants. This means that significant heat, that which cannot be used to generate power, is also available to customers should this be economically-viable for both parties.

Integrating heat off-take into the Facility would further increase its efficiency and put available waste materials to even better use. While we do not currently have a heat off-taker in place, we have already had enquiries from potential heat off-takers for both district heating and commercial applications. We are keen and ready to engage with all interested parties who wish to discuss their requirements with us.

Traffic and Transport

A: Transport and access to the site and the impact of deliveries and people employed at the ERF is the subject of a full Transport Study, which has taken on comments by the Highway Authorities.  Measures that Covanta will take to minimise and enhance traffic and access impacts include:

  • Restrictions on delivery hours and a controlled and monitored HGV Route Management Plan. 
  • A new junction with a right turning lane on Green Lane to provide access to the Facility;
  • Improvements to the footway/cycleway provision on Green Lane – potentially creating a second public access into The Forest Centre and Millennium Country Park;
  • Funding of the upgrade the Green Lane level crossing;
  • Reconnection of severed footpaths and creation of new footpaths and cycleways.
A: It has often been incorrectly reported that there will be 600 HGVs entering and leaving the ERF each day; the true figure is much lower. Our most recent forecast (February 2018) as provided to Network Rail for both construction and operation (including HGVs, light commercial vehicles and private cars), shows an average of around 50 HGVs arriving daily through the construction period, although this will peak for a short period at 150 vehicles arriving each day.

During the operational phase, we expect around 100 HGVs bringing in waste each day and 25 taking ash away for recycling and/or secure disposal. That’s 125 in and 125 out - nowhere near 600 vehicles which is often misquoted.
A: All waste deliveries to the ERF will be in sealed or ‘walking floor’ HGVs which are requirements set out in the facility’s planning permission and its Environmental Permit. Unlike some UK energy-from-waste plants, the Rookery South facility will not accept waste deliveries from smaller, local Refuse Collection Vehicles (RCVs) which can lead to small amounts of waste material falling or blowing out from the RCV’s waste storage and compaction areas.

The tipping hall at the Rookery South ERF has been engineered to ensure that when HGVs deliver residual waste to the plant, the vehicles firstly enter the tipping hall area and then reverse to tip their loads directly into the waste bunker. As the tipping hall and waste bunker are in an enclosed building, this further reduces the risk of windblown litter and noise from within the facility.

Covanta strives to be a responsible owner, operator and good neighbour in the communities where we operate. Our staff are committed to a clean and environmentally safe operating environment in our facilities and the surrounding environments. If litter or waste is spotted near the ERF and reported to us, we will ensure that it is investigated and, if necessary, cleaned up as soon as possible.