Extinction Rebellion activists from across south London joined forces in Beddington Park yesterday to highlight the daily destruction and toxic pollution inflicted on the capital by the Viridor incinerator. They issued a set of demands, including that the incinerator plant should be shut down as soon as possible.
The Beddington Lane incinerator was built for the boroughs of Croydon, Sutton, Merton and Kingston, who jointly handed Viridor a £1billion contract to burn their rubbish, potentially including radioactive waste, for 25 years.
Politicians in Labour-run Croydon and LibDem-controlled Sutton last year went through the motions of declaring a “climate emergency” and pledging that they would reduce their boroughs’ climate emissions to zero over time. Yet both remain committed to burning rubbish at Beddington, with all its polluting and environmentally damaging consequences, at least until 2045.
Viridor’s Beddington Lane incinerator has already exceeded the legal limits on emissions 25 times since March 2019 – 20 times over the limit on carbon monoxide, four times for volatile organic compounds and once for the highly toxic sulphur dioxide.
As much as 100 tonnes of waste was involved in the fire, according to the official reports into the incident. Present among the poisonous mix likely to have been released into the atmosphere during the blaze, unchecked and uncontrolled by Viridor, it is suggested that there was hydrogen cyanide, carcinogens such as nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide, ammonia, carbon monoxide and dioxide, PM2.5 and other particulates, chromium and arsenic.
The local politicians in charge of the South London Waste Partnership boroughs appear ignorant of the dangers, or they act as apologists for Viridor, or they are profoundly stupid. One LibDem councillor in Sutton has, apparently in all seriousness, told residents that the plumes of potentially polluting smoke rising from the incinerator’s twin chimneys are benign “grey steam”.
The Environment Agency, which is supposed to police Viridor’s activities, has taken no action over any of the incidents arising from Viridor’s management of the Beddington incinerator.
Extinction Rebellion is now calling for the Beddington plant to be subject to immediate reforms of its operation to address environmental and safety concerns, and for the incinerator to be closed down completely by 2030.
That would bring to an end the annual burning of 300,000 ton of rubbish that is trucked in by road from across London to be burnt for profit, at the expense of residents’ health.
Extinction Rebellion said, “The incinerator is the largest single source of CO2 in Sutton and will need to close by 2030 for Sutton Council to meet its commitment to zero carbon.
“XR is calling on the South London Waste Partnership to begin negotiations with operator Viridor immediately, to ensure the site closes by 2030. The incinerator continues to cause daily ecological destruction with the release of particulates damaging human health, and exacerbating the climate emergency.”
Part of yesterday’s protest focused on slow and deadly destruction of habitat in the neighbouring Beddington Farmlands nature reserve, which Viridor is contracted to maintain and enhance, but where work has been slow to complete and neglected, leading to the deaths of entire colonies of nesting birds.
“Within Beddington Farmlands, the tree sparrow was made locally extinct due to the destruction of its habitat whilst the site was constructed and developed. A population of lapwings are also threatened with local extinction due to neglect and a lack of management plans for water levels.
“Incinerators are incompatible with sustainability.
“The Beddington incinerator was knowingly located so that the greatest impact would be upon people living in areas of high deprivation.
“In the Croydon wards most impacted by the incinerator plume, there is a higher proportion of BAME residents compared to Croydon and London as a whole. This represents an even greater injustice, as communities locally are paying with their health to subsidise the higher levels of consumerism and consumption wrought by the more affluent areas of south London.
“Beddington Lane incinerator exceeds legal pollution limits on a monthly basis, and in 2019 had a major fire at the site which burned for hours spreading toxic fumes across much of London.
“With much of London now affected with illegal levels of air pollution, proven to cause 10,000s premature deaths annually, the incinerator emissions also impact those infected with respiratory disease covid-19, worsening its impact and extending recovery times.”
During their protests yesterday, Extinction Rebellion groups from Sutton, Croydon, Kingston and Merton issued three demand.
They called for:
- a plan to decommission the incinerator by 2030 or earlier in conjunction with implementing a zero waste strategy;
- water management plans put in place to safeguard animals’ habitat on Beddington Farmlands nature reserve; and
- Beddington Farmlands restoration plans – already seriously delayed – should be enforced by the local authority (Sutton)
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