Viridor going for the burn: will councillors stand up to them?

The government watchdog, the Environment Agency, is actively encouraging incinerator operators to pollute more and so bank more cash, at the expense of south London residents’ health.
By our Sutton reporter, BELLE MONT

Any chance that Croydon or Sutton might achieve their stated aim of becoming carbon neutral within 10 years will go up in a very large puff of smoke tomorrow night, when councillors are expected to blithely nod through a proposal to but even more rubbish at the Beddington Lane incinerator.

Going for the burn: Viridor act with impunity at the  Beddington incinerator

A meeting of the South London Waste Partnership, which also includes Kingston and Merton, will be told that Viridor, the incinerator operators, are being encouraged by the Environment Agency to seek an updated permit to allow them to burn 50,000 tons a year more.

Viridor are already paid £40million per year jointly by the four boroughs for burning rubbish. The additional burn will cost each borough another £2million annually. The additional burn will pump 50,000 extra tons of carbon dioxide into the skies above Sutton and Croydon – boroughs whose recycling efforts so far manage between them to save just 36,000 tons of CO2 per year. Climate change? You’d think no one in charge at Croydon, Sutton or the SLWP had ever heard of it.

The SLWP is a placid quango, set-up to manage waste contracts across the four boroughs without any pesky intrusions or proper scrutiny from opposition councillors. To a great degree, it’s how Viridor managed to land the £1billion contract in the first place, with the incinerator getting planning permission when one of the senior LibDems on Sutton council, John Drage, just happened to be a lifelong mate of the company chairman.

Now, with Stuart “T-shirts and Slogans” Collins – an ardent opposer of incinerators who never challenged the Beddington project once he was in office – consigned to the dustbin of political history following the bankrupting of his council, Croydon is to be represented at the SLWP by Muhammad Ali, the cabinet member for unsustainable Croydon, and Nina Degrads, who according to the meeting paperwork is “deputy cabinet member for Cleen Green Croydon” (sic).

The increase in the amount of waste to be burned looks a done deal even before elected representatives get to discuss the matter, as is the case with so much SLWP business. And as with so many things this year, covid-19 is being used as a convenient excuse to bump up the burn and improve Viridor’s bottom line.

The report to the SLWP states, “The Beddington ERF…”, officials continue to peddle the myth that the plant is some kind of “energy recovery facility”, when it is no such thing; Viridor and their pliant customers do their best to avoid using the troubling but more accurate word incinerator, “… is currently permitted by the Environment Agency (EA) to treat 302,500 tonnes of waste per annum.” Of course, by “treat”, they actually mean burn.

“The facility is capable of processing more than that, but this annual limit takes into account planned downtime for maintenance (when waste is received at Beddington but transported on to alternative facilities for treatment).

“As previously reported to this committee, the planned downtime in the spring did not take place this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. It has been deferred to 2021. This means that Viridor is forecasting that it will exceed its permit for the volume of waste that can be treated in a calendar year.”

Viridor has a bit of a habit for exceeding its permits: it regularly exceeds the amount of pollutants emitted from the Beddington plant, with the dozing watchdog the Environment Agency never taking any action. Now, the Environment Agency is actively encouraging Viridor to do more damage to the environment, on a permanent basis.

The report states, “The EA… has advised Viridor to submit a formal permit variation to increase the limit of waste processed as opposed to applying for a one-year dispensation as this will enable future flexibility around the periods when the facility is shut down for planned maintenance.

“As a result, Viridor has made an application to the EA to vary the permit for the Beddington ERF, to increase the annual amount of waste the facility is allowed to process…”, that is, to burn, “by 15 per cent, up to 347,422 tonnes per annum.”

Cllr Muhammad Ali: will he stand up to Viridor?

Viridor appear to believe that their customers, the SLWPand ultimately the four councils, are either thick or utterly gullable, as they claim that trucking in an extra 50,000 tons of crap down Beddington Lane each year won’t require an increase in the number of HGVs driving down the Purley Way or through Sutton.

“The variation is to the annual limits, the amount of waste the facility will process on a typical day will not change as the plant is already working at its daily operational limit,” they say in the report. “Traffic movements to and from the site would remain within those allowed through the planning process.”

None of this proposed significant worsening of the environment in Croydon, where air pollution is already often well above legal levels, has ever been put to any council meeting for discussion. And this despite the council last year, in the midst of widespread public support for the Extinction Rebellion protests, issuing a pledge to make the borough carbon neutral by 2030. Sutton did much the same, even though both councils are spending £10million each per year to burn hundreds of thousands of tons of rubbish.

Nick Mattey: questions for Viridor

Croydon councillor Muhammad Ali has often spoken of his concern for environmental issues and the emergency facing the planet through global warming. Tomorrow night’s meeting will put those convictions to the test. Can he really vote through his bankrupt borough spending an extra £2million per year to do something which directly contradicts his council’s stated policy?

At least one local councillor is gearing up to give his colleagues on the SLWP a tough time.

Nick Mattey, the independent councillor for Beddington North ward in Sutton, has demanded an opportunity to speak at the virtual meeting.

“I want to know why the SLWP has to prostitute itself to the demands of an American-owned waste company pledged to increasing dividends for its shareholders, at the expense of the health and well-being of residents in my ward,” Mattey said.

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 going for the burn: will councillors stand up to them?

  1. Lewis White says:

    Carbon neutral Croydon or Sutton? It depends where you do the measurements.

    We have all heard of carbon sinks–peat bogs, the oceans to name two.
    Carbon dioxide capture on the grand scale.

    What happens when we look at other nasties -carbon monoxide and particulates. Burning plastic also generates as tench –of burning plastic. Choking. Vomit inducing

    Beddington Incinerator make the lungs of the residents of Waddon and West Croydon the sinks for all these nasties. It must shorten their lives, and make their lives less healthy

    The trouble with the South West London Waste partnership is that 3 of the 4 boroughs have very litle of the pollution, as they are generally upwind , and enjoy the fresh air of Surrey that blows from the South West. Apart from the A3 road, Kingston and Merton suffer little pollution.

    All of Sutton other than Beddington also lies to the West of the incinerator.

    Who gets to btreathe the smoke and enjoy the sensation of their lungs being gripped by the pollution from the incinerator?. It is mainly the residents of Waddon and, notably, West Croydon, who get to breathe in the stench and the smell-less nasties, all of which are health-destroyers and life-shorteners.

    Sadly, I fear that the voice of just one borough–Croydon– is never going to out shout that of teh other three.

    I am not sure of the figures in terms of tonnes of waste incinerated, but as far as I know, the municipal waste incinerated here is only a small part of the rubbish being burned. Most is commercail waste, from London and maybe from Surrey

    I blame the Governments of all political colours, who for decades have been turning a blind eye to air quality. It is all being blamed on cars– but the fact is, incineration is a key factor.

    For most of us, the incinerator is the thing that burns our rubbish. For the people of Western Croydon and Beddington, it is a killer. Add this to the pollution they breathe from the Purley Way, it is all very wrong.

    We should be recycling far more as a nation, and incinerating in rural locations away from conurbations.

    Products need to be packed in materials that minimise waste, and what waste they create should be biodegradeable or easily recycleable without causing yet more pollution.

    • Raymond Bateman says:

      Sorry I have only just read this statement, though I would agree most of the points that you have made, but siting these incinerators in rural areas has consequences, like the one being proposed at Wisbech, which I grant you is rural, but almost in the town centre, but the pollution will effect a large food producing area. I would ask you, would you be comfortable in eating produce contaminated with pollutants from an incinerator.

      • Lewis White says:

        Hi Raymond, I’m glad that you responded, not only for the very true point you make about contamination of food, but also because it keeps the issue in all IC readers’ minds. I concur with your point– contamination of food. One could add “of water too” as the waste plume will probably dump nasties into the sea, in this case, the Wash. Oysters and sea creepy crawlies will absorb some of the outfall. Birds will ingest that .It is all terrible. But so too, is burining it in Croydon, upwind of tower blocks where thousands of people live.

        Sadly, even I fall back on the “burn it on the East coast–the waste plume will (with a bit of luck and a following wind,) blow the plume of filth out over the sea and then up into the air ( admitedly, towards Denmark or Holland).

        It seems to me that incineration is a form of desperation– how to get rid of all the stuff that we use, and discard, often after just a few seconds of use. Just think Christmas cracker plastic novelties.

        Burning it might save the dolphins from eating the discarded dross .

        I would rather see us burn the stuff here, than export it, to places where it ends up being dumped into rivers or on the land, or burned by children and poor adults in low-temperature bonfires on rubbish dumps on the outskirts of Bangalore and a hundred or thousand such places.

        My preference as the “least worst option” is for the development of some all-singing, all dancing sites in the UK that do “ultimate recycling” -and burn the rest.

        It seems mad to me that Drax, the big ex coal burning power station in Yorkshire, is burning imported timber in nugget form, from old-growth forests in Carolina. That has to be an eco-outrage on so many fronts, including the pollution and CO2 emissions from the ships that transport the wood from the USA.

        Could not Drax, and a few others, burn our residual rubbish? There is a lot of space there for sorting recyclables. Our rubbbish could go there by electric train from railheads located in maybe 2 places in the SW London partnership area, to avoid all that road transport to Beddington.

        Just a pity that plastic is flammable . If it were not flammable, it could be use to make building bocks, so that homes could be built like Lego. No mortar–just click !

        A pity that it stinks when burned. If only some solar powered furnace could atomise it into ….. er…atoms……. without liberating nasties into the atmosphere.

        The responsibility for consuming stuff packed in plastic must be ours, as consumers, but ultimately, it is up to the UK government to do something like introduce a plastics tax, to make packaging manufacturers to find alternatives….or for government to fund research into either modifying plastic to make it biodegradeable, or easily reusable and recyclable, or burnable without killing the planet.

        Some plastics are recycled. Picnic tables made of it are easy to clean and do not rot.

        With global warming, forests will be dying out, so reuse of the plastic mountain makes sense.

        back to Drax— the waste product from the coal burning process was called “fuel ash”. Lots of it was stacked up on the site to make landscaped hills.These are now being re-dug, as the ash is needed to make….building blocks !

        Maybe we need to clean sort and stockpile plastic jars and lids, and make landscaped mounds for re-use tomorrow by a wiser generation.

  2. jimvangogh says:

    Great article. Many thanks Inside Croydon. I’ve put some questions to the committee meeting tomorrow evening, including whether dispensing with the maintenance outages means even more pollution if the filters are not changed. I’ve also asked if Viridor has apologised for last year’s fire as we requested.
    South West London Air Quality Monitoring Group

  3. Jim Duffy says:

    I watched the meeting last night by video.

    Interestingly all the councillors who spoke were against the increase in waste burnt. But their complaints were batted away by a single council officer who defended Viridor’s position on this and other questions.

    It emerged that because of Covid travel restrictions the French and German specialist engineers hadn’t been able to travel here in the Spring when the maintenance outage was due. But I don’t think that stands up now as people can freely travel from the continent.

    I’ve written to the Environment Agency objecting to Viridor missing this maintenance which might include not changing the crucial filters. And asking for confirmation that they asked Viridor to apply for a permanent variation to their permit that allows them to keep going above the agreed limit. The committee also resolved to write to the EA.

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