Town Hall protest as XR demand answers over incinerator

Extinction Rebellion will be staging a protest on the Town Hall steps tonight, ahead of the latest meeting of the South London Waste Partnership.

Extinction Rebellion will be protesting outside Croydon Town Hall tonight

The branches of Croydon and Sutton XR will want Stuart Collins, the deputy leader of Croydon Council who chairs the SLWP, to provide answers to how his local authority can possibly achieve its stated aim of being carbon neutral by 2030 when it will be paying £10million per year until 2045 to burn the borough’s rubbish at the Viridor-operated incinerator on Beddington Lane.

The SLWP is the less-than-transparent body formed by Sutton, Kingston, Merton and Croydon councils to negotiate their collective bins and recycling contracts with Veolia (and hasn’t that worked out soooo well?), and who signed up Viridor to a £1billion contract to burn waste for the next 25 years – even including radioactive waste.

“Clean Streets Stu”, as he likes to be known, appears to have gone native in the years since he and Labour took control of Croydon Town Hall, going from an arch-opponent of incineration when seeking office, to now arguing at the most recent council meeting that “it is the least-worst option”.

According to a copy of the contract between Croydon Council and Viridor, seen by Inside Croydon, there were clauses in the agreement which meant that Collins – and probably his counterparts in the other SLWP boroughs – had an 18-month window of opportunity to cancel the whole incinerator deal because the contractors failed to have the Beddington Lane plant fully operational by the end of the summer in 2017. But Collins opted to take no action to cancel the deal – which is likely to prove costly environmentally and financially for the south London boroughs for generations to come.

“Either Collins never bothered reading the contract, or the council officials who have spent their careers pushing through the Viridor deal have just blocked all opposition to this environmental disaster at every turn,” one activist told Inside Croydon today.

The fire at the Beddington Lane incinerator last July

It has recently been revealed that Viridor had already taken charge of the plant when the large fire broke out on the site last July, a matter which remains under investigation by the Environment Agency, that most toothless of watchdogs.

There was no air quality monitoring done of the kind of highly toxic pollutants which were released into the atmosphere across south London, as old mattresses and other rubbish which were being sorted prior to disposal managed to blaze for eight hours, only the work of the Fire Brigade bringing the fire under control.

And since then, the multi-national company has shown a repeated reluctance to comply with even the simplest of conditions to monitor the pollution it generates: its monthly emissions data reports are often published late.

The report for December was only made available yesterday, on the eve of the SLWP meeting, and then only after some earnest badgering from Mark Gale, a Merton-based blogger.

Council officials – or Viridor apologists – had submitted a report to the SLWP meeting which stated, “Viridor continues to upload Emission Monitoring Reports…twice per month”, something which would have been demonstrably untrue had not the latest report appeared, as if by magic, yesterday.

The report shows that it was signed off on January 3, so Viridor had been withholding the information for a full month.

The emissions report from Viridor. Signed off on Jan 3, but not made public until Feb 3

They no doubt had their reasons: it shows two breaches of carbon monoxide pollution limits during this monitoring period, bringing the total to three in the month of December. So much for the careful monitoring by the Environment Agency, in whom Collins expressed such faith at last week’s council meeting.

Given Collins’s new-found enthusiasm for incineration, the Extinction Rebellion activists have little confidence that the four boroughs’ elected councillors will do anything to put pressure on Viridor to stop them polluting south London.

Incinerator enthusiast: Croydon councillor Stuart Collins

And after the first flush of enthusiasm last summer for the climate emergency declared by Tony Newman (Collins’ colleague and leader of Croydon Council), there’s deepening scepticism that is all just, well… hot air and hypocrisy.

For while the insincere Newman spouts greenwash, Croydon Council continues to receive sponsorship cash from Gatwick Airport, with Newman banging on about the economic value to Croydon of a second international airport runway, and of the possibility that solar-powered planes will offer some kind of panacea.

And while cities such as York and Birmingham take the climate emergency seriously enough to look at making their town centre car-free zones, Newman and his numpties continue to discuss with Westfield their plans for rebuilding a massive shopping mall in the centre of Croydon and equipping it with thousands of car park spaces.

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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7 Responses to Town Hall protest as XR demand answers over incinerator

  1. Adrian Dennis says:

    Opponents of incineration (a system used by many authorities for decades) have yet to say what the alternative is other than the far worse polluting landfill which ceased to be available anyway. Recycling and dealing with food waste separately are not complete solutions. Humans continue to produce waste and we need to deal with it. Extinction rebellion campaigners also never come up with a positive solution just disrupt. It is a serious problem and as one who has been involved in trying to protect the environment and tackle climate change for decades, I find these negative campaigns with no realistic solutions depressing, frequently using bad or ill-informed science to justify arguments that just show a poor understanding of the real issues and threats to our environment.

    • Actually, Adrian, your basic premise is untrue.
      But it is the premise used by Viridor, council officials and now Stuart Collins to suggest that there isn’t any alternative to incineration.

      The alternatives have been available for some time – they just don’t make such massive profits for waste incineration interests such as Viridor and their mates on local councils.

      • It’s that blinkered pompous sanctimonious patronising pig ignorance that led to Adrian being deselected by his local Labour party in 2005 (in preference for someone who turned out to be a total chancer), so depriving him of thousands of pounds of income courtesy of us hard working taxpayers. If he bothered to engage with Extinction Rebellion instead of slagging them off from the comfort of his Thornton Heath armchair, he might learn a thing or two and change his narrow mind.

    • derekthrower says:

      Extinction Rebellion are clearly not a negative campaign group. They are campaigning for change to existing practices to tackle the scientifically proven climate emergency we are facing. Former Labour Alderman Dennis attempt to caricature then as depressing, negative and without presenting solutions reveals his implicit conservatism and inflexibility to the problems faced. The cloth eared Labour group in Croydon should looks to the German experience of social democratic decline in the face of environmentally based political priorities. With intolerant people such as Dennis influencing policy, this appears to be a fait accompli for them.

  2. Anthony Mills says:

    So could you or anyone else please tell us what these alternatives are [apart from landfill], or at least where details of them may be found? They have certainly not been widely publicised or explained by their proponents, even if they are supposedly ”bad science” or ”unrealistic”. I am no particular fan of incineration, nor even of a bit of a bonfire, whether for ”energy recovery” or not, but I would dearly love to know how we can deal with, even at much increased cost, the quantities of unreusable or unrecyclable waste that even the most conscientious or self-sufficient of us cannot avoid producing in todays life. For certain, producers should be regulated to use only recycleable packaging, and waste reduction must be the primary aim, but there will still be a massive residue of other discarded materials that cannot be recycled, even at cost. Perhaps we should be building walls with it all against the coming rising seas instead… So — a quick internet search showed numbers of alternatives, but none of them seem to be in common practical or economic use yet. Most alternative scenarios rely on effective [but costly] pre-sorting to recycle as much as possible. As both landfill and incineration have more or less the same effect in CO2 production and have otherwise comparable costs and benefits [see the 1st link], the primary pollutant even from the best managed incineration including high-temperature pyrolosis is dioxin, much of which comes from the chlorine component of PVC [poly vinyl chloride]. Even when the final residues are a glass-like substance which encloses both heavy metals and dioxins, and is usable in construction materials there is as yet no guarantee that they will not eventually leach. Removing PVC from the waste stream still leaves the problem of its disposal, and removing it from common use would be very difficult. Some of the sites from which this information was gleaned:- ; this one offers some potential alternative technologies:- ; this the Greenpeace offer for alternatives:- ; and this is another that introduces Mass Recovery, Biological Treatment [MBRT] as a method, but without much explanation of how it works:- . I am sure others are available. But none seem in common use. The Swedes seem to have the most efficient system at the moment, but it involves very high pre-sorting and recycling levels [which it is argued commercial pressure from the SLWP contract mitigates against], and very efficient incineration with effective pollution-scrubbing. Anyone got any other alternatives?

    • Helen Benjamins says:

      I believe most people are willing to recycle but, as far as I can see, and beyond not producing waste, two things could and would make a massive difference. One; packaging needs to be manufactured of single types of material. For instance, sandwich boxes, if necessary, really dont need plastic windows. What you see doesnt help with what you taste and, if in date, the sandwich will be fine. Better still make it at home and bring it in a reusable lunch box.
      Two; label packaging (single material use would make this so simple). Nothing major, just a single number or letter denoting where it should be put. There is still far too much confusion and if it’s not easy to do, people (many) wont bother .

  3. Lewis White says:

    Every time I buy coffee or tea bags I look at the package and see if it is recyclable.
    With coffee, all that I encounter are packed in a plastic/foil laminate. Tea–in an outer box of recyclable card– in 99% of the brands I have sampled, including “Fair Trade” teas, are in inner packs of …… plastic/foil laminate. The packs bear the words “not currently recycled”. One wonders–when if ever will it be?.

    One noble exception I found –from a major tea supplier in the north, had no inner pack–just the cardboard box. The tea was excellent. Why is the government not just banning the plastic foil for tea packaging? Could easily be kept fresh in waxed paper inner packs, and card outers?

    Medications–in bubble packs with thin foil on the front, and plastic on the back. Unrecycleable too.

    On the basis that every little reduction helps, would it not make sense for all packaging category to be reviewed in turn, and those packed in materials that are unrecycleable or biodegradeable banned?

    We are stuck with the incinerator for the next 20 or so years.
    What are the things that are burned that give off all these nasties?
    Those are the things that need to be weeded out of the supply chain in the next 5 years. Then they won’t be burned.

    A fug of burning plastic now hangs over the areas of Croydon downwind of Beddington, , if the smoke is not rising vertically. That means, most days.

    National government and local government needs to be working at all scales to reduce waste, and get alternatives to landfill and incineration . They have 20 years to get it right, but who is reqally working on this right now in Croydon?

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