SHETLAND Islands Council looks set to import more waste from the rest of the UK to burn in its incinerator to counter a reduction in local rubbish as more items are recycled.
Officials, however, say running the plant will be more efficient and cost effective than before despite waste having to be shipped from south as Scottish Government recycling targets begin to be felt locally.
At the SIC's environment and transport committee last week, members voted - not without a degree of apprehension - in favour of introducing a new isles-wide scheme that will see two wheelie bins given to each household to allow kerbside recycling of paper, card, plastic, cans and cartons.
Much of that waste has been burnt at the energy recovery plant at Gremista in Lerwick, which fuels the town's district heating scheme, leading to fears over the plant's viability when the recycling measures come into force from next summer.
But plant manager Willum Spence said that the council is likely to start importing more waste from the mainland, in the same way it already does from Orkney and previously from offshore.
Companies would pay a gate fee to have waste burned in the incinerator and this would include the shipping costs.
Spence said the waste from south should actually burn more efficiently than materials like paper and plastic, which have previously been used in the incinerator.
The facility burns 23,000-23,5000 tonnes of waste per year to generate about 7MW of energy and under the new proposals around 2,000 tonnes would be taken to Shetland in each shipment.
"It has a calorific value that is consistent, whereas the waste we're taking in at the moment varies quite differently and we have to mix a lot in the bunker before we can get the plant to run effectively and efficiently," he said.
"If we did set up a contract, then we would ask for a certain calorific value as well."
The plant is designed for about 9,500 megajoules per kilogram, but items like plastic and paper - which will be recycled instead of burnt - can have too high a calorific content.
Spence confirmed that the council has been in contact with companies who would bring waste to Shetland, but he stressed that while it is "keeping everything in mind and preparing ourselves", signing contracts is some way off as the recycling scheme will only come into effect next year.
The concept of importing more waste from south is nothing new, with staff predicting back in 2013 that more would have to be shipped up as a result of the Scottish Government's long-term recycling targets.
The council signed the government's household recycling charter in 2016 and Zero Waste Scotland (ZWS) will offer the SIC transitional funding of £579,000 for new bins and a communication strategy to publicise the scheme.
Shetland's recycling rate has fallen to a Scotland-wide low of just nine per cent against a national average of 44 per cent since kerbside collection in Lerwick and Scalloway ceased in April 2013.
Three years ago, ZWS allowed the council to burn much of its household waste in the incinerator as it was deemed the "best practicable environmental option", but that special derogation is unlikely to be renewed.
The waste that could be sent from other councils in the UK to Shetland is already being exported to countries like Denmark and Sweden.
Spence said the environmental gains from recycling material would offset any emissions encountered from shipping waste to Shetland and confirmed it would be "certainly carbon saving".
"Waste things have changed over the years - the whole change in legislation, the drive from the government," he said.
"By us doing the waste charter, we're recycling what's best - you get the best results, you get the best economical results, and the carbon factor is a big saving.
"So if the whole country works like that, then it's an optimum, and it gives the government a chance to set up brokerages for that particular waste stream. And that supports the local government."