A ‘Burning’ issue – The Gloucester Incinerator

Published On September 23, 2010 » 2642 Views» Gloucester

This issue of Incineration at Javelin Park (lets be honest, this location is the only game in town, even Richard Graham admits as much) is still going on.  I think its not going to go away but it is a very complex issue that needs well thought out.

GlosVAIN (Gloucestershire Vale Against Incineration) are spearheading a campaigning against the Incinerator and they raise some interesting points, some of which are valid and some I’m not too sure about.

Is GCC playing fair?

Gloucestershire CC is the strategic waste authority and is therefore responsible for developing a waste strategy for the county.  Instead, GCC have used a procurement process to dip out of this democratic responsibility.

They claim to be ‘technology neutral’, and have put out a tender and asked competing private sector companies to present solutions – or a strategy – as part of their bids.

They have then used commercial confidentiality to keep secret what the bidders are proposing, shutting down any debate on the benefits or disadvantages of various waste technologies. GCC are allowing companies with vested interests to assess technologies on our behalf.

The one thing that they have consulted on – sites for the Waste Core Strategy – has remained unpublished despite it being nearly a year since the consultation finished.

Incineration IS the only game in town!

GlosVAIN have heard informally that all 4 short listed companies are offering incineration in some form or other, which means in effect that GCC have made a decision but are not telling us.  In my meeting with Richard Graham before the election, he has confirmed as much!

Arguments against Incineration

GlosVAIN have a number of arguments against Incineration:

  • Incineration has a negative impact on climate change.

Only incineration emits higher levels of CO2 than any other waste process (including landfill)1. Energy output from incineration is much smaller than energy saved through recycling.

  • Incineration destroys valuable resources.

Only incineration requires that you run plants 24/7, constantly feeding the facility with waste. Incineration competes with other environmentally sustainable approaches rather than complementing them and acts as a disincentive to recycling. A study undertaken for the National Assembly of Wales shows that 93.3% of municipal waste could be recycled and therefore reused – but GCC has assumed that we will only get to 60%. Recyclable materials can drive economic development and create green businesses and jobs. An incinerator would simply burn these resources, requiring the extraction of additional natural resources to manufacture goods, which uses more CO2 and therefore drives climate change

  • Incineration is bad for health

Only incinerators burn a diverse mix of non-toxic plastics, metals and other residual waste to create poisonous toxins and dioxins, some of which are released into the atmosphere. Clearly modern incinerators have much better filters than previous models, but they still emit tiny particles – the 2.5 micron and 1 micron particulates – that can affect people and livestock/milk. These nano-particles pass easily through lung membranes into the body, where they build up over years and adversely affect health. Several large studies have proven increased mortality rates in areas close to incinerators. The argument that the effect is less than previously is not good enough – the bottom line is that incineration affects health. Any technology, which adversely affects health, even by a small amount, should be avoided.

  • Incineration creates toxic waste

Only mass-burn incineration creates toxic ash and hazardous waste – around 30% of waste burnt will remain as ash and needs to be buried. Studies show conclusively that both fly and bottom ash are toxic.4 The better the filters in an incinerator, the more toxic the ash. We know from the recent studies of the Grunden facility in Bishops Cleeve that this disperses into the surrounding area and can affect health (for instance through increased asthma rates and shortening of life expectancy) and the environment. GCC should not embark on a waste technology which creates toxic waste for which there is no guarantee of safe methods of disposal.

  • Incineration costs more and is bad for the taxpayer

Only incineration is the most expensive method of waste disposal.

‘Up and down the country, local authorities are spending millions of pounds on introducing new waste incinerators. The authorities in Norfolk and Suffolk are spending £160 million each, whereas the authority in neighbouring Cambridgeshire is meeting its EU landfill directive obligations, using different technology, for just £41 million’6

GlosVAIN are not advocating a continuation of landfill, but it is worth considering how incineration stacks up against landfill:

‘..the environmental harm caused by modern landfill and a modern incinerator are of a similar magnitude, while the costs of building and operating an incinerator are much higher than the similar costs for landfill’7

  • Incineration is inflexible and a long-term burden

Only a large incinerator would lock the county into a strategy of no change for  25 years or more. Cheaper and more effective approaches to waste are sure to come along in that time, yet tax payers in Gloucestershire will still be paying rocket-high prices because GCC will be locked into a contract and will not be able to take advantage of them. Incinerators are not modular – one cannot replace bits as new and better technology becomes available, so once built, you are stuck with it whatever happens. If it becomes illegal or impractical as a method of waste disposal, GCC will still end up paying for it and having to fund an alternative strategy

And over the long-term, costs might increase. There could be fines and penalties if insufficient waste is provided, costs of upgrading if European safety guidelines are tightened, decommissioning costs. What appears to the County Council as a short-term solution (reducing the approx.£7m in land fill tax that GCC must pay) would bring long-term cost and pain.

  • An incinerator would have massive visual impact

Only incineration requires such a massive facility, which would create a huge blot on the landscape. It would dominate the view from the AONB and Cotswold Edge, particularly Haresfield Beacon – a view used on the front piece of the AA’s ‘Discovering Britain’ publication to illustrate beautiful vistas in the UK! Other technologies such as MBT and AD would blend in better with local surroundings.

So, what can be done instead?

Something has to happen, with the Landfill tax about to hit we can not afford to keep going to Hempsted.  Does that mean the Incinerator is the only option, well some more options are here:

  • Better Recycling
  • Mechanical Biological Treatment
  • Anaerobic digestion
  • Autoclaving
  • Advanced Thermal Technologies (ATT): Pyrolysis, gasification and plasma
  • Residual separation and research facility, as part of a Resource Recovery Park.
  • Landfill

Its hard not to take a bit of a NIMBY approach here.  If the health risks are high (and I can not find any evidence to the contrary) then its not a good thing to put it next to such new developments.  Though it will be right next to the M5, and thats hardly “green”.

My main issue is the fact that once you start it, you can’t really switch it off.  Also, I think that too many people are looking for a one size fits all solution, when I think it would be better to have a number of solutions working together as an integrated system.  Such as using better recycling, then a sorting facility and seeing just what is left.  The recycling issue is getting better, though I have a number of issues with just how the council does it.  The Sorting facility is a way that a number of industries sort out their recycling and is obviously commercially viable.  I think then we will have a much less waste to dispose of.  It is similar to the green energy solution, we should not look at Solar OR wind OR geothermal, but a sensible combination of all of the sources!

Lets face it, if a massive incinerator is built (I have been told a 3 story complex, again from Mr Graham) in Javelin Park, then it will need to have a constant feed of rubbish and therefore we come the dumping ground for South Gloucestershire.  there is also an access issue, if there is going to be such an increase in traffic, then J12 of the M5 will need to be upgraded AGAIN!

Edited to add, it seems they are having the same issues in Chesterfield

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11 Responses to A ‘Burning’ issue – The Gloucester Incinerator

  1. Joe K says:

    ‘They have then used commercial confidentiality to keep secret what the bidders are proposing, shutting down any debate on the benefits or disadvantages of various waste technologies. GCC are allowing companies with vested interests to assess technologies on our behalf.’

    The thing that’s always glossed over in these public furores (and I guess another one is in the offing), is that the council has representatives from all the main parties – and even a Green now – and if commercial confidentiality is keeping them in the dark as well, I’d like to hear one of them say so. It’ll be interesting to see how Lib Dems like Jeremy Hilton feel about the discussion now, but the Labour councillors who were always so quick to fret about 10 storey incinerators still act as if they’re being dragged helplessly along.

    I’ve seen enough council meetings (and sat through the opening prayer, thank you very much) to know that there’s far too much opposition for the sake of opposition, politicking. The council claimed after one survey that environment would be a consideration, but vying with cost and efficiency. Labour are still in a position to ensure a fair decision is made, and at the very least uncover any ‘fix’.

    Plus, everyone should be busting their butts to improve recycling, whatever the outcome. Are Haresfield/ Quedgeley showing the way?

  2. Claire says:

    Incinerators are only popular as they are cash cows. Authorities use them to prostitute themselves to neighbouring authorities who pay for the privilege of dumping their waste elsewhere. You must have noticed all of the Bristol City rubbish lorries driving up the A38. They’ll be able to take even more of other counties crap with a shiny incinerator. CHING CHING!!

  3. Joe K says:

    I’m mildly surprised that even with all this talk of penalties, waste is still coming in to Gloucestershire. Only mildly because, on reflection, if the EU hasn’t begun to impose penalties it’s practical, if other counties are paying for the privilege, that Glo’shire Council accrue what profits they can, to defray those penalties. They still need to be finding better ways of dealing with that waste.

    By the way, that GlosVAIN link didn’t work, Barry. In the first place, the link actually said ‘glosain…’, but glosain.co.uk didn’t work either. It should be glosain.org.uk. It’s also unfortunate, in passing, that on that site they link to Ian Mean’s blog, rather than the incineration talk article (http://ianmean.wordpress.com/2010/05/12/incineration-will-it-happen-in-gloucestershire/). Most greenies won’t be too happy with his bilge about the Pope’s visit.

    Still waiting for Danny’s input, mind…

  4. matthaslam says:

    Good post Baz – this is one of those ‘no-brainer’ things which just leaves you wondering what those in charge are doing. I researched this a number of years ago but i’ll have another look at it! People just can’t leave behind the ‘big infrastructure’ approach, including large centralised projects. It seems now that smaller but more is the most efficient approach (i.e. lots of local power sources rather than massive centralised sources, or a number of sustainable small schemes in each area, rather than the incinerator). Thanks for bringing it up anyway – this needs more debate than it seems to have already got.

  5. Joe K says:

    ‘More but smaller incinerators’ seems to be the option some people favour, because it creates more flexibility, but there is still the issue of whether individuals want a small incinerator nearby, and taken together, the same health issues will be raised (you can probably say goodbye to imported waste, though). But again, these are all concerns that councillors opposed to incineration should be taking up. Labour councillors in Bristol didn’t care, which is why the Lib Dems took over the council. That’s why Labour’s objections in Gloucestershire don’t ring true.

  6. Rob says:

    Good article but I would make a few points

    – 70% recycling should be achievable, but GCC would look a bit stupid if they weren’t conservative in their estimates of what level could be reached and built a facility that then couldn’t cope with the amount of waste coming in.

    – MBT and anaerobic digestion can’t deal with all waste – that remaining amount (approx 10%) either has to go into landfill or be dealt with some other way. So you’d probably be looking at a mixed solution. Just because an incinerator is built now doesn’t rule out an MBT plant coming online in the future as well.

    – If no-one tendered on an MBT/anaerobic/ATT based plant (ie all the bids were for purely incineration) or they were but offering bad value for money, what is GCC supposed to do? A solution has to be commercially viable and technically feasible. MBT etc does work but that fact alone is of no use if no-one comes forward to bid on that basis.

    – I don’t agree that putting out a tender is dipping out of their responsibility to develop a strategy. It’s seeing what solutions are viable. What use is a strategy – of whatever flavour – thought up in the offices of County Hall if no-one will then bid for the contract?

  7. Pingback: The Gloucester incinerator… « b l o g . m a t t

  8. bazkirby says:

    Rob,

    I agree with most of your points, as I said in my post, what is really required is to think about the entire system, not just fixate on one solution. Getting people onboard with better recycling as part of a comprehensive solution is a good thing.

    I think that you can put out a tender that encourages many options is possible, we tend to do that a lot in my industry, so I see why we shouldn’t do it here. If all else fails, you can put out a multi portion tender, its not difficult. But again, your right about not getting bidders, I think its a bit like Tesco, many people complain about so many tesco shops, however, as we have in Kingsway, if no one else is going to put in a tender, what more can you do. It then comes back to how much you want to exercise the idea by activly going to other providers and really encouraging competition.

    Overall, my concern is that we are looking for a one size fits all solution, when we could be looking at a more systems based approach.

  9. Rob says:

    My main concern is that the tendering process was a level playing field and we can’t tell that at the moment, If the specs were deliberately skewed to favour incineration over other technologies, then you’re not going to get a range of bids.

    Civil Servants are notorious for screwing up tendering and procurement because they think they understand what solution is needed and ask industry to build it. Result is an over-complicated and vastly more expensive end product. They should stick to saying “we need this job done, tell us how you would do it and how much it would cost”.

    OTOH, the last thing that should be done is to offer any kind of public subsidy to encourage one technology over the other. The technology has to be able to stand on its own feet.

    The problem about Tesco (or any other large chain) is how to enable small firms to compete against goliaths like that. The buying power of Tescos is such that they have a massive in-built advantage when it comes to making a site profitable.

  10. bazkirby says:

    Yes, I have no idea what the tender looked like before it went out, and while I would hope it was not skewed intentionally, it may have been very thin and therefore the best profit is probably gained in incineration, where as a tender with due thought to things like environmental impact and longevity may have produced different results.

    I agree that, especially in this time of austerity, we should not offer subsidies, but I would put money on the initial tender not being a broad one.

    I wonder it a FOI request for the tender documents would herald anything, or is it just too late no matter what?

  11. bazkirby says:

    It seems that this was not cost effective afterall as the PFI money has been pulled.

    This had better not be the end of the process, we still have the problem and we need to solve it!

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