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NTU Sustainability in Enterprise

Notts Incinerator Expansion

1 June 06 words: Eckersley and Neil Higham

With growing antagonism towards the proposed expansion of Nottingham’s incinerator, LeftLion examines some of the concerns regarding health and the environment and asks if this is the solution to waste management in our city?

The United Kingdom currently produces around 28 million tonnes of household and domestic waste each year. Some 73% is sent to landfill, 19% recycled and 8% incinerated. Levels of incineration are set to rise to a massive 25% by 2020, a direct response to Article 5 of the EU Landfill Directive, which legally binds governments to reduce landfill to 35% of 1995 levels. This shift requires major changes to infrastructure and will have a permanent impact upon our environment and health. Lack of public consultation and education has created a void of information regarding waste management strategy in the UK, indeed, having spoken to many people about Nottingham’s incinerator the overwhelming response is… ‘Incinerator? What incinerator?’

Nottingham’s Eastcroft incinerator is the cigarette-like chimney located near the BBC building on London Road. It is responsible for the disposal of approximately 150,000 tonnes per annum (tpa) of municipal waste from within the city boundaries. Waste Recycling Group (WRG), the operators of the facility, have submitted a planning application to the City Council seeking to build a third line, thus expanding the burning capacity of the plant by 100,000 tonnes; pushing the total to 250,000 tpa.

Significant issues have been raised with regards to this expansion, not least by Nottingham Against Incineration and Landfill (NAIL), a pressure group set up in 2002 by local environmental campaigners, Jon Beresford and Nigel Lee, to highlight the problems they see with incineration in general and the Eastcroft Plant in particular. NAIL believes our resources are best placed in schemes to promote recycling and composting habits. “I feel that recycling is a habit that needs to be learned, open a food package and it literally takes one second to put the cardboard in one box and the plastic in another when I am throwing something away. My wheelie bin is never even half full when it is collected,” says Kaye Brooks of Colwick.

When WRG submitted the planning application NAIL called a public meeting in Sneinton, the area closest and most affected by the incinerator. Since then many local residents have become involved and numbers have swelled. Indeed in March of this year a petition carrying names of people from all over Nottingham was handed to the City Council with over 3000 signatures. So naturally, one has to ask: why is there such an objection?

The incinerator runs on two lines that were built in 1972 but were designed in the 1960’s, and WRG propose to build a third line in order to burn more waste. However, the proposed third line will not be an adapted, modern version of what came before, but rather will be identical to the other two, which have had 34 known pollution breaches in the past four years. In 2002 it was rated by Greenpeace as the fifth worst incinerator in the United Kingdom. Since then the Environmental Agency has delivered eighteen site warnings to the UK’s twelve municipal incinerators, a third of which have been issued to Eastcroft. At a recent public meeting local residents addressed a panel of NAIL representatives asking, amongst other things: “Why, with so many breaches of limits over the last few years, doesn’t the Environment Agency prosecute WRG? Why are they not prepared to use their full legal powers?”

As already stated, the Government is bound by law to drastically reduce the percentage of waste being sent to landfill and naturally they seek to do this as cheaply as possible. Incineration seems to be their answer. Arguably, this is contradictory to the necessity and stated desire of the government to increase recycling levels across Britain. Considering that Central Government has set local targets for recycling to be at least 50% by 2015, an increase of incineration would surely be antithetical to their presumed commitment to these targets.

WRG’s Non-Technical Summary cites the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ (DEFRA) ‘Waste hierarchy principle’ for waste management planning, with ‘waste minimisation as the most favoured approach, followed by re-use, recycling, composting, energy recovery and disposal.’ Incineration fits into the category of energy recovery, the industry itself is trying to change the rhetoric commonly used, referring to incinerators as ‘Energy from Waste Plants’, in that resulting steam can be used for generating electricity and heating.

WRG argue that by recovering energy from waste that might otherwise be landfilled, ‘the extended plant would allow the City, Council and Region to process more waste up the hierarchy, but as Jon Beresford of NAIL points out; “We must debunk the myth that incineration destroys waste, there is a fundamental law of physics that states matter cannot be destroyed, only turned into something else. In the case of incineration 35% becomes ash, which goes to landfill, including a large portion that is toxic and needs processing at a special toxic landfill site. The rest becomes greenhouse gases containing heavy metals, particulates and dioxins, which are amongst the most cancer causing things known to man.”

The combination of a lack of recycling schemes in Nottingham, as evidenced by its poor recycling rate, just 8% of total municipal waste recycled and 6% composted in 2004/2005and a lack of awareness means many recyclables are thrown away with all other general waste. An increase of a further 100,000 tpa of household and domestic waste destined for incineration means that even more potentially recyclable waste would be incinerated. Robyn Fuller of Sneinton commented “Incineration encourages people to not to worry about recycling, because they see their rubbish magically whisked away and destroyed with no awareness of where it goes or what it becomes.”

Alongside DEFRA’s waste hierarchy principle sits their proximity principal. This recommends that waste should be disposed of as close to the place of production as possible. This encourages municipal authorities to do all in their power to process their own waste, therefore creating local responsibility for waste management, and has the advantage of reducing the amount of transport necessary to move waste from one area to another.

The proposed increase in municipal waste therefore raises significant questions concerning where such waste will come from, and how it will get here. WRG currently have the rights to burn the 150,000 tpa of municipal waste from the City, however they have lost the county contract to rival waste company Onyx, which would have given them the rights to burn waste from the rest of Nottinghamshire. Consequently, WRG will need to import waste from nearby counties Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Lincolnshire to satisfy the increase. This will result in a further 106 lorry movements (that’s 53 extra lorries) everyday in and out of Nottingham.

Jon Collins, the leader of the City Council, has publicly stated his, and the Labour council’s, objection to the expansion, but regardless of the political will the decision can only be reached on planning grounds. The necessary Integrated Pollution Prevention Control (IPPC) license has been formally granted by the EA, leaving only a planning committee review to decide the outcome of the application. This is an evident blow to NAIL’s campaign because it means that, despite backing from the council, the decision can only be made based on the legality of the application and the subsequent construction work, leaving ethical considerations aside.

The evidence suggests Kaye Brooks is right when she says; “there cannot possibly be a need to incinerate 250,000 tonnes of waste every year for the next thirty years with the push we have now to recycle. It’s bad enough that there is one (an incinerator) anyway. To expand it seems unnecessary and pointless, just a money making exercise at the expense of public health.”

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