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The one thing that they have consulted on – sites for the Waste Core Strategy – has remained unpublished despite it being nearly a year since the consultation finished.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
- Advanced Thermal Technologies (ATT): Pyrolysis, gasification and plasma
- Residual separation and research facility, as part of a Resource Recovery Park.
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