An environment report from the London Assembly this week says that the capital needs to reduce the amount of rubbish it is incinerating – just as Beddington is about to fire up a vast waste incinerator that was given clearance to operate by Boris Johnson.
It is just a little more than four years since Johnson, when Mayor of London, gave the go-ahead for the construction of an industrial-scale incinerator on Croydon’s borough boundary, green-lighting the prospect of 25 years of emissions and pollution from burning rubbish that will have to be trucked in from across southern England.
Key findings in the London Assembly report include:
- Burning waste takes materials out of the circular economy, releases carbon into the atmosphere and may have negative health effects; and
- London must begin to limit not only the amount but also the type of waste it sends to Energy from Waste plants. As London strives to be greener, there are further steps the Mayor should take to manage the environmental impact of EfW in the short term.
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Labour’s Leonie Cooper is the London Assembly Member for Wandsworth and Merton, and chair of the Assembly’s environment committee. Introducing the Assembly’s report, Cooper described incineration as an “option of last resort”.
As a ward councillor in Furzedown, which on a bad day will be downwind from Beddington in Wandsworth, Cooper is surely aware of the potential political fall-out when air quality monitors across south London start to return data once the Viridor plant fires up its furnaces in earnest.
Cooper said, “We have got to get a grip on the amount of waste being sent to incineration. Burning recyclable and organic materials is wasteful and potentially harmful and as London is expected to grow, we urgently need to reduce the amount being sent for incineration and to separate out useful materials.
“Once these materials are burnt, they are lost forever and can’t be used within a circular economy. Incineration can no longer be relied upon to manage our waste effectively.
“Energy from Waste does have its benefits in generating heat and power, but, along with exporting waste elsewhere and sending waste to landfill, this should really be an option of last resort.”
The report found that London currently burns half its waste, and that 2 million tons of waste were sent to incinerators last year – more than doubling in the last decade.
“As the city strives to be greener and more sustainable, urgent change is needed to stop recyclable and biodegradable material being incinerated,” a London Assembly press release accompanying the report said.
Among its other findings, the committee made a number of comments pertinent to the Viridor plant at Beddington. They said that…
- Recyclable materials are unnecessarily going to incineration, including materials, such as plastic, that are potentially hazardous to health when burnt.
- Energy from Waste plants do not sort recyclable waste as part of the process, as this is seen as the responsibility of residents, businesses and local authorities.
- London needs to reduce the amount of waste being sent for incineration and burn less organic and plastic waste, as well as recyclable materials.
The public contract to manage the Beddington incinerator is worth £1billion over a quarter of a century. The contract was granted by the South London Waste Partnership, which comprises Sutton (the local planning authority, which is controlled by Liberal Democrats), Kingston (Conservative), Merton (Labour) and Croydon (which is now Labour).
The Assembly report gave no clear direction in terms of what boroughs should do to exit long-term incineration contracts.
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