Our environment correspondent, PAUL LUSHION, reports on some shocking revelations from Brighton which illustrate rubbish economics
Veolia, the rubbish contractors for Croydon and three other boroughs in the South London Waste Partnership, have been instructing some of their staff to send residents’ recycled waste for incineration.
That’s according to a report in yesterday’s Brighton Argus, in which a Veolia employee blows the whistle on how households’ carefully sorted recycling is being shovelled by the lorry-load towards an incinerator at Newhaven.
The revelation burns a massive hole in the false “environmentally friendly” narrative pursued by Croydon Council and others who have been defending the new Viridor incinerator at Beddington Lane.
“We shouldn’t be surprised, when all the contracts and fees are structured in such a way to make bigger profits for the waste contractors by burning rubbish instead of recycling waste,” said Nick Mattey, the independent councillor in Sutton’s Beddington North ward who has been campaigning against the environmental disaster that is the Viridor incinerator.
“They get £30 per ton for recycled waste, or £120 per ton for waste sent to an incinerator. Of course they’re going to divert as much as they can for incineration.”
Brighton and Hove City Council – once under control of the Green Party – has a waste and recycling contract with Veolia, who also operate the Newhaven incinerator, which was built for the Tory-controlled East Sussex County Council. It has been burning rubbish since 2012.
According to an exclusive in yesterday’s Argus, Veolia has told bin lorry driver Ken Quantick and his three-man crew to tip all their recycling into the household waste facility.
“This means our eight tons of recycling a day is going straight into the incinerator at Newhaven,” the local paper reports Quantick, 71, as saying.
“This is a scandal,” Quantick said. “The public need to know what is going on.”
Veolia maintains that it only rejects recycling which has been “contaminated”, while the bin men say that on their round, they have “a very low contamination rate”.
Sutton councillor Mattey says that with Veolia heavily incentivised to send waste to incineration, “it is the easiest thing in the world for them to put a single egg shell on lorry-load of paper recycling and declare it all ‘contaminated’ and fit only for incineration.
“For a single load from an eight-ton lorry, they immediately make an extra £720 for their shareholders if it is incinerated instead of recycled,” Mattey says.
“Multiply that for every lorry, every day of the working week, and apply that across the whole South London Waste Partnership.”
The Argus published photographs from the Sussex depot which shows recycling mixed in with black bin bags. Quantick told the newspaper that his depot is unable to cope with the volume of recycling being collected.
“They are overwhelmed,” he said. “It’s a mountain. They can’t clear it quickly enough. They are using this as an excuse. It’s absolutely disgusting.
“I don’t know what the public is going to think when they find out their recycling is being burned.”
Veolia told the newspaper: “We are a recycling company and we recycle viable material.”
In south London, the Viridor incinerator at Beddington Lane, which has a £1billion contract over 25 years with Croydon, Sutton, Merton and Kingston councils, is still not yet fully operational, though test burns continue to be observed. Veolia recently took on the waste and recycling collections for Sutton and Merton, as well as Croydon.
In Croydon, Stuart Collins, the Labour-run council’s cabinet member for fly-tipping and dirty streets, claims that the borough is aiming to recycle 50 per cent of its waste.
The evidence, though, suggests that that is just, well… a load of rubbish.
In other areas which have introduced industrial-scale incinerators into their waste management strategy, recycling rates have tended to go down.
In South Wales, recycling rates were at 55 per cent before 2014, when an incinerator at Splott came on-stream. With a voracious appetite for ever more fuel for the incinerator, ever more rubbish, including materials intended to be recycled, was diverted to the furnaces.
The business model for incinerator operators, whether in south London, on the south coast, or in South Wales, is always the same: get rubbish, weigh it, charge it, burn it, and sell the power generated.
If they’re not generating enough heat, then they won’t generate the power that they are contracted to supply.
And for a “recycling company” such as Veolia, who operate what they prefer to call an “Energy from Waste Facility” at Newhaven, or for Viridor at Beddington Lane, the difference in revenues between what is paid for recycling and what is paid for incinerator fuel is sure to see ever more “contaminated” waste sent for incineration.
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