Waste incinerators, like the one soon to be fully commissioned on Beddington Lane on the Sutton-Croydon borough boundary, frequently breach pollution limits on harmful emissions, but due to a loophole exploited by operators, the public is never informed.
Those were among the findings of a report published at the House of Lords yesterday which drew cross-party support amid calls from MPs for a halt on all new incinerators, and for an “Incineration Tax” to be imposed to disincentivise councils – like Croydon – from opting to burn waste instead of recycling it.
The number of waste incinerators around Britain has almost doubled since 2010, to 44, and there are another 18 planned to be built.
In south London, Viridor will be getting £1billion over 25 years from Croydon and three other boroughs to burn their rubbish and waste trucked in from across south-east England at the Beddington incinerator.
The report, Waste Incineration and Particulate Pollution: A failure of Governance received support at its launch from MPs including Labour’s John Grogan (Keighley), Tory Philip Davies (Shipley) and Liberal Democrat Lord Tyler.
The report, based on research carried out by UK Without Incineration Network, reveals for the first time the true levels of emissions of harmful particulate matter (PM) and Nitrous Oxide (NO) from incinerators across England. But when incinerators exceed emission thresholds, which they should be reporting to the government watchdogs, they frequently fail to reveal their pollution level.
The report highlighted the serious public health issues arising from the use of incinerators, and suggests that this is going unnoticed because of a lack of proper enforcement of regulations and with official guidance being ignored.
According to the report, harmful particles released by incinerators in England last year were equivalent to the emissions of more than a 250,000 40-tonne lorries travelling 75,000 miles per year.
The report lists all operating incinerators around the country, and details the mountains of rubbish which they burn, and the amount of particulates that they pump into the air as a consequence.
One example is the south-east London incinerator, sited just off the Old Kent Road in Lewisham, masquerading as an “energy from waste” plant, and which has been operating since 1994.
It burns through 446,000 tonnes of rubbish per year, and each year generates nearly 10 tonnes of harmful particulate matter, which is released into the atmosphere. It also produces 491 tonnes of harmful Nitrous Oxide, according to the report.
The smallest particles of pollution can pass into the blood and airways of people and are known to cause significant breathing problems as well as heart and lung disease.
The news comes as Britain is on the verge of burning more waste than it recycles for the first time.
Croydon Council, which is imposing a new household refuse regime on all its households while claiming it wants to increase recycling rates, is, together with Kingston, Merton and Sutton, a member of the South London Waste Partnership which has commissioned the Viridor incinerator on Beddington Lane, which is expected to start operation this summer.
Some councils already send more than 80 per cent of rubbish for incineration – despite much of this comprising of recyclable materials such as plastic. Long-term incinerator contracts act as a strong incentive to local authorities to burn waste instead of recycling.
Incinerators release particulate matter into the air as part of the waste burning process. The smallest particles, PM2.5 and smaller, are invisible and especially dangerous to health. Particulate matter and NO can aggravate breathing problems, heart and lung disease. PM and NOx are emitted by diesel cars, which the government is now working to phase out.
The statistics have prompted renewed calls from politicians for an “incinerator tax”, to be paid by operators such as Viridor, which would make it economically less viable to opt for incineration.
Speaking at the launch, Gloucestershire MP David Drew, Labour’s shadow minister for environment, food and rural affairs, called for a moratorium on the building of new incinerators. “‘Incinerator pollution is a matter of serious concern for many of my constituents in Stroud.
“We need to halt the building of incinerators and there are many arguments in favour of taxing existing incinerators. It is right for polluters to be expected to pay for the pollution they cause.
“The government should step in with a fresh strategy on waste.”
He was supported by fellow shadow minister for environment Holly Lynch MP, who raised concerns about two incinerators being built near her Halifax constituency.
And Grogan said, “The case for a tax on waste incineration, to mirror the Landfill Tax, and for a moratorium on new incinerators is now very strong.”
Lord Tyler said, “Clean air is vital to health but the Government seems unconcerned about adequately monitoring the emissions from incinerators and has allowed this monitoring loophole to go unchecked. We must tighten up monitoring procedures and fully investigate the impact before allowing any further incinerators to be built.”
Lord Tyler’s party colleague, Tom Brake, the MP for Carshalton and Wallington, which includes Beddington, did not attend the report launch. Shame.
Shlomo Dowen, the national coordinator of the UK Without Incineration Network, said: “For decades incinerators in England have been emitting significant quantities of pollution and greenhouse gasses. There is a substantial cost to society associated with these harmful emissions.
“This cost should be met by incinerator operators in line with the ‘polluter pays’ principle. Operators should also be required to be more transparent about their emissions and to do more to monitor and control the pollution they cause.”
More on this topic from our archive:
- Viridor incinerator doomed to be our Splott on the landscape
- Tom Brake link to £275,000 church donation from incinerator company
- Secretive incinerator scheme is a bad deal, say Sutton Tories
- Sutton official tried to influence vote at incinerator meeting
- Infant death rates on the rise where incinerators operate
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