John Clark writes…
First published: June 2010
We learn only one thing from history – ‘We don’t learn from History’. In 2006 Lewes and Wealden District Councils had successfully gone down the recycling route. Their County council then signed a long term contract with an incineration company. This guaranteed to burn a fixed tonnage. So as to achieve this the County Council ‘capped’ the recycling of the 5 District Councils.
Ryedale District Council is in the top 20 for recycling (53%). North Yorkshire County Council/York is planning to instruct a company to build a waste incinerator. The contract is almost certain to have a fixed tonnage agreement. This produces a list of unanswered questions:-
- Will North Yorkshire/York produce the same amount of waste for 30 years?
- Is a PFI contract good value? Burn now – pay later.
- Is incineration safe?
- What effect does incineration have on the waste pyramid?
- What will happen to the toxic waste ash produced?
Educational packs for schools trumpet a policy of reduce, re-use, recycle etc. The message of a fixed tonnage is saying to teenagers that nothing will be achieved until after they have teenagers of their own.
Various government agencies claim that incineration is safe. Where is the evidence? Incinerators produce trillions of ‘nano-particles’. These particles contain some of the most dangerous compounds, thousands of which are not even known. A massive multiplier of the risk is that nano-particles are so small they can pass through human membranes and into nerve cells, including the brain. These particles are very difficult to detect or measure. There are no regulations to control them. What happens if in 5, 10 or 15 years time nano-particles are considered to be as dangerous as, say, dioxins? North Yorkshire County Council/York will then have to start again. The taxpayer will have to carry on paying for both; not to mention the cost of the clean-up.
Related to the safety issue is the question of the disposal of the ash. 4 tons of waste incinerated produces 1 ton of toxic ash. This has of course to go to landfill.
One of the solid arguments against incineration is its environmemental cost. It is well down the waste pyramid. Reducing usage saves resources. Re-use does not use resources in extraction or manufacture. Recycling does not use resources for new material extraction. Incineration does nothing to save resources at all.
There is an alternative.
San Francisco, with a similar population, has gone down a different road. A road leading to zero waste. They may not get there but part way is far cheaper, safer and better for the planet. Between 2000 and 2009 San Francisco recycling rates rose from 50% to 72%.
North Yorkshire County Council/York Council level is about 40%. If this was increased to 72% the amount for incineration would be half the present level. If over time 85% is achieved then the total volume of landfill would be the same as the for the ‘toxic ash’. Are the two councils saying that 85% recycling cannot be achieved over 30 years? Where is their evidence? Incineration will leave future generations with a debt, a polluted planet, no resources and a pile of ash. They should spend a fraction of the money on a zero waste approach. It would be cheaper, safer and there would be resources on the planet to hand on.