Viridor breaking rules over incinerator’s pollution reports

Our environment correspondent, PAUL LUSHION, on how 12 months after a major fire at the Beddington Lane plant its polluting operators continue to be given a free pass by the Environment Agency and local councils

February’s emissions report from Viridor for the Beddington Lane incinerator was late, and April’s has yet to be published

Viridor, who operate the waste incinerator on Beddington Lane for four south London councils, including Croydon, are failing to deliver full and detailed reports on their plant’s pollution emissions in timely manner, as is required in their contract.

The incinerator usually provides reports showing each breach of emissions limits, and also documents all the “invalid results”, which have become a regular feature for each day it burns rubbish.

Back in February, even before the incinerator operators had the excuse of the covid-19 lockdown, there were delays in their producing pollution reports ahead of the latest meeting at Croydon Town Hall of the South London Waste Partnership, the body formed by Kingston, Sutton, Merton and Croydon councils to deliver their waste services and run the incinerator.

The Beddington Lane incinerator’s CO emissions break health limits every day it is operating

That delay in reporting to the SLWP meant that there was no discussion of serious breaches of emission limits which had been so high that Viridor was forced to shut down the incinerator for a couple of days, simply to ensure that it met the permitted average levels of pollution over a whole month.

By manipulating the pollution emissions averages over a longer period, Viridor ensures that there’s no possibility of any reproach from the SLWP – which is currently under the chairmanship of Croydon Labour councillor Stuart Collins – and that they also avoid any investigation from the government agency which is supposed to protect the public from such pollution, the Environment Agency.

Viridor’s Beddington Lane incinerator remains subject to investigations over the fire that took place there last July when huge black clouds of noxious pollution wafted out over the skies of south London. Under Collins, the SLWP committee has done little or nothing over the incident.

Viridor’s own figures show the incinerator regularly emitting polluting levels of sulphur dioxide

Viridor’s emissions reports for February were eventually released on March 9. They showed that the incinerator broke its emissions limits for sulphur dioxide, which pollutes air and water, while the Beddington Lane’s plant was also shown to emit high levels of carbon monoxide pollution into the air.

According to Viridor’s own figures from February, the peak exceedance of CO pollution was 1,207 mg/m³ – some eight times more than is supposed to be allowed. The figures show that Viridor’s incinerator was breaking carbon monoxide limits for every single day through February.

Yet these alarming results have never been publicly discussed by the SLWP committee, which has not been able to hold any physical meetings for almost three months because of coronavirus restrictions. The SLWP – which is using millions of pounds of public money to pay Viridor to pollute south London’s atmosphere – has stood by and allowed this to continue.

And now it seems that there are some problems with Viridor providing its emissions reports for April, too.

Brett McGuin, the environment, health and safety manager at the incinerator, said at the beginning of last month, “The printer terminal for the emissions monitoring reports was not available this week. A spare terminal has been ordered and is due to arrive in the coming week.

“At this point, the full reports for the month of April will be uploaded.”

By last week, the data for April was still not available from Viridor – in another breach of its operating agreement.

Manuel Abellan, the deputy leader of Sutton Council and the cabinet member responsible for polluting the borough, has been asked for the data to be published in accordance with Viridor’s operating agreement. But calls from concerned residents have been ignored.

Opposition to the incinerator from Croydon residents was silenced

With their local authority seeming not to care less about the climate emergency or air quality in Sutton, the local Extinction Rebellion group has successfully crowdfunded a mobile Nitrogen Oxides monitor. NOx is one of the pollutants that the incinerator has a record of breaching.

Sutton XR has been working closely with the South London Air Quality Action Group, who already have their own PM2.5 and PM10 particulates monitors recording data automatically around the clock.

It may have passed you by, but between October and December last year, the SLWP ran a consultation on its waste plan. Croydon Council – just weeks after the council leader declared a climate emergency in the borough – failed to publicise that the waste plan was out for consultation. The council’s press office (Motto: “Keeping you informed and involved”) has not a word about this important public consultation in its archive of press releases for September and October 2019.

So when the SLWP recently published the “representations received” from its consultation, any opposition from Croydon residents had been silenced.

But residents from the other three boroughs in the SLWP made their thoughts known. Neighbours from Sutton, Kingston and Merton struck a common theme…

“Shut down the incinerator”.

“Close the Beddington incinerator and open the nature reserve before any more damage is done to local wildlife and residents’ health”.

“Get rid of the incinerator in Beddington Lane”.

“Getting rid of the incinerator”.

One resident, in reply to the consultation, suggested, “Constant air monitoring around Beddington Lane incinerator, with regular, transparent publishing of results and incinerator being closed down when it exceeds safe air quality levels.”

They received this response from the South London Waste Partnership: “Automatic air quality monitoring takes place at two locations on Beddington Lane.” This assurance came with a link to Google Drive.

Incinerator enthusiast: Stuart Collins

If you click on that link you get the following message: “Sorry, the file you have requested does not exist.” Naturally.

The next meeting of the SLWP committee is scheduled to be held at Croydon Town Hall on Tuesday, June 16 from 6.30pm – though obviously, how the meeting goes ahead remains subject to coronavirus circumstances. Over the past six months, all but one SLWP meeting have been cancelled or postponed, leaving important questions still unanswered around last July’s fire.

Viridor receives £10million per year from each of the four boroughs in the SLWP for operating the Beddington Lane incinerator. That’s a lot of money going up in smoke, and might explain the reluctance of the SLWP to act more decisively over the regular pollution fails and the breach of operating requirements by Viridor.

This has allowed Viridor to continue to operate the incinerator in the final stages of its testing phase.

Given the scientific evidence which suggests that those living in areas of higher air pollution are more at risk from coronavirus, there’s many across south London who are firmly of the belief that it is long overdue for Collins’s committee to start acting in the interests of the people they are supposed to represent, rather than boosting the profits and dividends of big business.

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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5 Responses to Viridor breaking rules over incinerator’s pollution reports

  1. sebastian tillinger says:

    Come on Tony – If you want to be the elected Mayor of Croydon, you are going to have to be on top of things like this because the public will be asking YOU for the answers.

    Better still, you could stay in touch with Inside Croydon, and you’ll have a ready gauge of what the public think and what their concerns are.

  2. Lewis White says:

    I think we all are guilty of collusion in the pollution caused by incineration. Humans seem to be brilliant at creating waste. Archaeology depends on inspecting Neolithic, Bronze age or later middens to find out what we were chucking away a few thousand years ago.

    So, what is the solution to waste? It seems that composting really does work, and converts a huge amount of municipal waste to useful compost.

    Glass bottles, tin cans, paper packaging–all easily recyclable, with not a lot of residula waste. We all know that.

    Even concrete nowadays is being crushed, and reused for road bases, even patio bases. Tarmac is broken up and re-melted and mixed with some vigin bituemn material and reused to resurface roads.

    The real problems things seem to be mixed building waste, old paint cans, and the usual suspects of plastics and mixed metal plastic containers–and nappies.

    What really is being burned down at Beddington, that creates all this CO 2 and other pollutants?
    What ever is going in that creases these nasties needs to be identified, and– governments need to ban the things still being made from these materials.

    If consumers can’t buy it, they can’t chuck it away. It’s that easy. We need to stop making things that create serious pollution when burned or landfilled.

    During Covid, I have been buying beers from a range of microbreweries. The glass bottles now often have labels made from clear plastic. Why not use paper labels?. It is an example of un-necessary use of plastic, which gets burnt–releasing lots of nasties into the air– as the glass gets melted down. Yet another example of waste that damages our lungs or gets landfilled and stays around for hundreds of years, polluting air, land and water. Or finds its way into the rivers and seas.

    Governments need to stop such products and materials, and reduce the plastic mountain at source–not clean jupo (badly) later. .

    Thank goodness that at last the major manufac turers are reduc ing the amount of polystyrene packaging and going for cardboard. Supermarkets are introdusing biodegradeable bags which really do rot down, over a year.

    I once quizzed the published statistics about the tonnage of various diffrenet types of rubbish going into the Beddibton Landfill. It was very inetresting . The key thing is that around half of the waste was municipal waste. Half was from construction, commerce and indusry. . Precisely nothing was known as to the make-up of the latter.

    So– what is going in to Beddington, that causes so much pollution and CO2? Is it household waste? Is it building waste, or factiory waste, or clinical waste? We should be told….. by SLWP, by Croydon, and by the Environmemt Agency.

  3. Lewis White says:

    The UK needs to get a real strategy for reducing waste and eliminating completely, the products and packagings that are incinerated.

    I look at my own wheely bins, and on most weeks, the vast majority is clean recycling. The remainder is mainly plastic waste such as food wrappings, unrecyclable plastics such as polystyrene packagings, and the contents of the kitchen and bathroom waste bins. We don’t waste much food, so there is hardly ever any waste in the litttle bin. We are fortunate to have a large garden with 2 compost bins for garden clippings, and subscribe to the council’s excellent garden waste service for twigs and small branches.

    However, from time to time, eg when doing decorating, there are things like dead paint brushes, plaster, bits of rotten wood, and unrecyclable glass items.

    It is almost tedious to relate, but plastics seem to be the big throw away item, even when plastic food containers and plastic bottles are washed and placed in the recycling.

    Is it that clean, separated plastic waste, now China is refusing it, is being burned down at Beddington, along with the miscellaneous stuff that people put in their dustbins?.

    The more I think abiut it, the more I would like to see a proper breakdown by tonne, of all the stuff going into the flames.

    I have to say that even a few years ago, I supported incineration vesrsus landfill.

    Now, my view is that we need “Maximum packaging elimination and waste reduction” followed by “total waste separation and recycling” followed by “residual waste incineration”, and that the latter must be well away from major settlements, probably near or on the East Coast — to blow the nasties away from land.

    Not good for the sea, or the Dutch and Danes, hence, it is our moral duty, and that means the Government’s, to do absolutely the most possible to minimise waste. As a Christian, I know it is God’s world, and we must look after it and all its inhabitants–human, animal, plant and other.

    In my life time so far, we have got rid of London smogs, and leaded paint and petrol–all fantastic achievements. We need a new sustained initiative now to stop at source the plastic mountain, and develop new uses for recycled products. And if God gives us some help, via bacteria that can eat landfilled waste plastic, then that should be OK, but we need to do everything possible too, before the fish we eat are made of plastic, all the whales and big fish dead from ingesting plastic bags and bottles, and the seabirds dead through ingesting plastic fishing lines and bits of coloured plastic toys.. The people of London who breathe the emissions from London’s incinerators are being damaged by the toxic mix of chemicals and odours released. We really need to get this waste stopped at source.

  4. Gina Clatworthy says:

    Well put Lewis White. I agree, we need to get the waste stopped at source and incinerators should not be situated in residential areas!

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