Frequently Asked Questions

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. 

Prior to safely landfilling the inert ash, ferrous metals such as iron and steel, together with non-ferrous metals, such as copper and aluminium, are removed from the ash residue and sent to recycling facilities. In the UK, the ash residue can be used as an aggregate by the construction industry.

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.

Waste industry experts Tolvik have said a total of 12.6 million tonnes of residual waste was processed across the UK’s 53 operational plants in 2019.   These plants produced 6,700GWh of electricity during the past year, which is around 2% of the total power generated in the UK (Source: Tolvik).

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.’

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.

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.

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) has reviewed research undertaken to examine the suggested links between emissions from municipal waste incinerators and effects on health.  The HPA concluded that ‘modern, well managed incinerators make only a small contribution to local concentrations of air pollutants.  It is possible that such small additions could have an impact on health but such effects, if they exist, are likely to be very small and not detectable. The Agency, not least through its role in advising Primary Care Trusts and Local Health Boards, will continue to work with regulators to ensure that incinerators do not contribute significantly to ill health.’

A: In December 2019 there were 53 EfWs either operational or in late commissioning in the UK, according to waste industry experts, Tolvik, in its latest annual report. The report states that a total of 12.6 million tonnes of residual waste was processed in 2019.

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.

A: The Environment Agency’s modelling specialists have audited the dispersion modelling. This audit included checking the background emissions levels and the weather data used by Covanta, including using our own weather data from Bedford. 

In addition, Covanta has conducted a number of case studies investigating the likely dispersion impacts of such conditions, including the assessment of the initial Rookery South ERF application in 2011. These studies found that although these conditions could lead to increases in the long-term and short-term Process Contributions (PCs), the variability is within any modelling uncertainties. As a result, these conclusions are not likely to change.

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;
  • 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; and
  • 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 545,000 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 545,000 tonnes of residual waste per year into over 60 MWe of electricity. That’s enough electricity equivalent to meet the needs of 112,500 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.Of particular local importance to the visual impact is Stewartby brickworks and the four remaining chimneys to the west of the village. The scale and character of the chimneys has informed the design of the EfW Facility specifically in terms of the number of stacks, material colours and proportions of the stack.

A:  At its highest point, the main facility building will be 50 metres tall. The stacks are 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 result in around 90 metres of the stacks being 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: Full construction works on the ERF began in March 2019 and is expected to take 36 months. Covanta, the Green Investment Group and Veolia expect the facility to commence operations in 2022.

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 500,000 tonnes (600,000 US tons) of both ferrous and non-ferrous metals. That’s enough steel to build more than 400,000 automobiles and sufficient enough 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.

A: Site and road safety are top priorities at all times. At the main site entrance and exit point of the Rookery South site there is a dedicated wheel wash that all vehicles can use if the weather conditions are poor.  In addition, the project’s EPC contractor and all site workers will be encouraged to keep an eye on local road conditions and report any sightings of mud on local roads that come from the Rookery South construction site.   

We also have a similar proactive approach when members of the public report mud on local roads and we would continue to encourage anyone to get in contact with the project team at the earliest opportunity. 

A: During the project's pre-planning phase to seek a Development Consent Order (planning permission) for the ERF in 2009/10, Covanta were required to carry out detailed consultations with local communities and statutory bodies (including English Heritage and local councils).  These discussions determined key factors such as the number of stacks, the design process and the colour of the facility's stacks.  

During the consultations with English Heritage, CABE (now merged into the Design Council), Central Bedfordshire and Bedford Borough Councils, the flue stack colour of Corus Colorocoat HPS200 Ultra ‘Matt Terracotta’ finished metal cladding' was preferred, as it gave similar tonal appearance to the existing Stewartby brickwork chimneys, whilst maintaining a functional and efficient material for the use of the building.

Further information on the Development Consent Order and the consultation process undertaken can be found in the Design & Access Statement (Document 6.1) in the project's archive (

A: We do not anticipate that the colour of the stacks will change over time once operations begin at the facility in 2022.

A: The stacks are required by the Environment Agency, under the project’s 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 above ground level.

A: During the project's pre-planning phase to seek a Development Consent Order (planning permission) for the ERF in 2009/10, Covanta were required to consult with a number of Statutory Consultees, including the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and local airfield operators, including Cranfield Airport.

In keeping with many tall structures across the UK, features such as stacks, cooling towers and on/off-shore wind turbines, are required to place high-intensity lighting devices on these structures to avoid aircraft incidents and collision. The lighting, which are often bright red in colour, make tall structures much more visible to aircraft at night, but also when visibility is impaired by weather conditions during daylight hours.

Following the pre-planning consultation, Covanta agreed with the CAA and other Statutory Consultees that a number of permanent high-intensity lights are required. The new permanent lighting is now in position on the stacks to ensure the facility fully complies with CAA regulations, UK aviation safety rules and the project’s DCO requirements.

Further information on the CAA planning consultation requirements can be found here.

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, Hitachi Zosen Inova (HZI) 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 HZI will be promote supply chain opportunities in the local media.

A: There will be two recruitment phases.  Firstly, the largest number of roles will be required across the three-year construction phase and, secondly, the search and selection for the plant’s future operations team.

For construction opportunities, the ERF’s principal Engineering, Procurement and Construction contractor, Hitachi Zosen Inova (HZI) will appoint subcontractors and they will recruit the construction workforce at various stages of the build phase. This will create more than 300 jobs, which, at the peak of the construction period, is likely to employ over 600 tradespeople.  Importantly, HZI contractor and all subcontractors will recruit locally wherever possible.

The next recruitment phase will be for over 50 new full-time operational roles and apprenticeships at the facility.  We will need individuals to fill positions as diverse as Engineers, Shift Supervisors, Mechanics and even administrative staff.  These jobs will be advertised well in advance of the commissioning of the ERF, starting in 2020. The positions will be promoted locally in the media, at Job Centre Plus, via local authorities and the project’s dedicated website

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. The Rookery South Community Energy Initiative (which is a first for a UK energy-from-waste project) for around 9.000 households
  2. Community Trust Fund (£150k initial before COD/then £50k each/year of operations)
  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.

A:  Members of the Project Team are involved in ongoing discussions with the Rights of Way officers at Central Bedfordshire and Bedford Borough councils to gain a consensus on the overall footpaths and Rights of Way strategy.  This is in conjunction with O&H Holdings as the ultimate owners of the Rookery North lake and its surrounding land.

The footpaths that are within the construction site fence line were only ever permissive paths (i.e. they are on private land that the landowner allowed people to use) and were not officially designated Rights of Way.  These will eventually be designated as public Rights of Way under the strategy being discussed with local authority officers and O&H Holdings.

However, the intention is that the permissive paths would not be designated as Rights of Way until all construction works are completed and the Rookery South facility begins operations in 2022.  This is in keeping with the Rookery South facility’s planning permission (known as a Development Consent Order), but it’s also as a health and safety measure to protect walkers and their pets from construction traffic as works continue at the Rookery South site.

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, the six weeks of works will commence on 7 January 2019 and will be completed by 17 February 2019;
  • Improvements to the footway/cycleway provision on Green Lane – potentially creating a second public access into The Forest Centre and Millennium Country Park;
  • Funding for the upgrade of 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, the Green Investment Group and Veolia strive 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.